Saturday, April 26, 2008

Le Pen: Gas Chambers are a "detail"

Ah, fascists:

Selon Jean-Marie Le Pen, les chambres à gaz sont décidément bien "un détail de l'histoire de la Seconde guerre mondiale". Revenant dans le mensuel Bretons du mois de mai, sur sa déclaration faite le 13 septembre 1987 au grand Jury RTL-Le Monde qui lui a valu d'être condamné à 1,2 millions de francs (183 200 euros) d'amende, le président du Front national lance : "J'aurais parlé, même de très loin, du génocide vendéen, personne n'aurait été choqué. J'ai dit que les chambres à gaz étaient un détail de l'histoire de la seconde guerre mondiale : ça me paraît tellement évident. Si ce n'est pas un détail, c'est l'ensemble. C'est toute la guerre mondiale alors."
Aux journalistes, Didier Le Corre, rédacteur en chef, et Tugdual Denis qui lui rappellent "le processus : déporter des gens, les amener dans des camps juste pour les faire tuer", Jean-Marie Le Pen répond : "Mais, ça, c'est parce que vous croyez à ça. Je ne me sens pas obligé d'adhérer à cette vision-là. Je constate qu'à Auschwitz il y avait l'usine IG Farben, qu'il y avait 80 000 ouvriers qui y travaillaient. A ma connaissance ceux-là n'ont pas été gazés en tout cas. Ni brûlés.

France: Loosing its foothold

Of course, France lost its official "foothold" on african colonies in the 50's and early 60's, but globalization is now rendering the remaining linkages more tenuous according to Le Monde:

Comme deux vieilles connaissances fatiguées l'une de l'autre, l'Afrique et la France ne se comprennent plus. Non seulement Paris perd pied sur le continent noir, mais son image se dégrade. Objet de débat depuis quelques années, cette réalité est désormais officiellement reconnue et préoccupe le sommet de l'Etat. Multiforme, le constat est dressé dans un ensemble de télégrammes rédigés à la demande du Quai d'Orsay à l'automne 2007 par 42 ambassadeurs en poste en Afrique, et dont Le Monde a pris connaissance. Pareil état des lieux tend à plaider en faveur de la "rupture" dans la politique de la France en Afrique promise par Nicolas Sarkozy. "Rupture" que des proches du président français semblent remettre en cause.

L'image de la France "oscille entre attirance et répulsion dans nos anciennes colonies, au gré du soutien politique ou des interventions, militaires notamment, dont ont fait l'objet ces pays", constate un télégramme de synthèse. "La France n'est plus la référence unique ni même primordiale en Afrique. Les Français ont du mal à l'admettre", ajoute un diplomate qui a participé à ce travail. A l'entendre, tout se passe comme si le temps s'était arrêté : les Africains "jugent la France à l'aune des travers du passé alors que Elf, c'est fini".

De leur côté, les Français ignorent que les Africains entrent dans la mondialisation "plus vite qu'on ne le croit" et sont désormais courtisés par tous les pays émergents (Chine, Inde, Brésil) et par les Etats-Unis. "Loin de la pensée misérabiliste, (...) les progrès accomplis par l'Afrique sont importants et largement sous-estimés par l'opinion et les observateurs", estime le document, élaboré pour tenter de remédier à l'effet désastreux produit par le discours de Nicolas Sarkozy à Dakar en juillet 2007.

Of course, obtaining true financial, intellectual and cultural independence (to the extent that such a thing is possible anywhere on the planet) is a right that all countries should have, so I am not arguing for maintaining post-colonial colonialism. Interesting to note, though, the extent to which Sarkozy undermines everything he touches...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Spam Blogging

Makes four servings.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Child Labor

Besides saying that child labor is still practiced on a wide scale, I found this section of the article particularly salient:

[I]t is not inevitable that growth will drive child labour to the economic margins before rooting it out completely. As in the past, if associated with an unequal distribution of income [emphasis mine] and child-intensive production processes, economic growth can increase child labour rather than eliminate it.

And once in place, child labour can be difficult to uproot as child workers forgo schooling and apprenticeship and so grow up to be unproductive adults, who, in turn, cannot earn enough to support their children through education or training. It only takes one generation of child workers to trap an economy in such a low-productivity equilibrium.

Second, despite the spectre of avaricious parents, the children most at risk of early, hazardous, and even slave labour are those without adult kin. Where families have been broken up and denuded of prime-age adults by wars and epidemic disease, the prospects for preserving childhood look bleak.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Adult Workers Have a Lot to Learn...Online

The Financial Times has an interesting article up today about life-long learning.

Improving returns on that asset requires neither great sums of money nor greater flights of imagination. The key is to rethink and reorganise how busy but anxious adults can benefit from education and training opportunities. Technology makes meeting that challenge far more affordable, entrepreneurial and compelling. Adult education is a market ripe for rapid global transformation.

The internet is a paradise for auto­didacts. The intellectually curious can find doctoral dissertations on virtually any subject in any language, download seminars podcast from the world’s great universities and leading professional societies and view YouTube lectures by Nobel laureates ranging from the physicist, Richard Feynman, to economists such as Milton Friedman and Muhammad Yunus.

You need no creativity to picture how this growing wealth of multimedia material may be repackaged and customised for adult education courses . Organisations of all sizes can bundle their own blogs, webcasts and digital simulations as training tools to serve employees and job applicants. Why not invite candidates to participate in online training sessions to see how well they learn? Follow up the next day by texting them “pop quizzes” to test retention.

While I am somewhat immune to claims that technology is "changing everything," especially when such claims are meant to create fear, the above article strikes me as mostly true and pertinent. Indeed, the internet is a paradise for autodidacts--AND WE SHOULD ALL BE AUTODIDACTS. Of course, the FT mentions Milton Friedman, but one can also read Dean Baker, Max Sawicky and others. The internet, in contrast to our MSM, offers a plethora of choices to challenge and inspire.

If teaching in a liberal arts college has taught me anything, it is that learning never stops, nor should it. The last 10 years or so have been revolutionary for me as a teacher, colleague and as an engaged citizen, and much of my personal "revolution" has come thanks to technology. Who would have thought that cultural realia from France or Africa would be at my fingertips 24 hours a day? Who would have thought I would be teaching myself languages online? Who would have thought I would be blogging against X or Y or Z and for A or B or C on a regular basis? Who would have thought my students could see world changing events happening in almost in real time on youtube, or that such video would have a more democratic nature than CNN? (Yes, I know, a lot of people thought about and predicted these things. My questions are a reflection of my own constant amazement at the amount of information available.)

As imperfect as the world is (including the internet), there is much to learn. May the open source--and by that I mean open distribution of creative materials--revolution continue.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bloom's Taxonomy

Here's a nice little summary of Bloom's Taxonomy updated to fit the aesthetics and cognitive framework of the information age. In particular, I like how they look at mash-ups, tagging, linking, etc.

While many of these activities occupy a grey area that prevents them being completely analogous to Bloom's taxonomy, this reworking of the terms nonetheless has some heuristic value to help us educators think about what we're doing:

  • Mashing – mash ups are the integration of several data sources into a single resource. Mashing data currently is a complex process but as more options and sites evolve this will become an increasingly easy and accessible means of analysis.
  • Linking – this is establishing and building links within and outside of documents and web pages.
  • Reverse-engineering – this is analogous with deconstruction. It is also related to cracking often with out the negative implications associated with this.
  • Cracking – cracking requires the cracker to understand and operate the application or system being cracked, analyse its strengths and weaknesses and then exploit these.
  • Validating – With the wealth of information available to students combined with the lack of authentication of data, students of today and tomorrow must be able to validate the veracity of their information sources. To do this they must be able to analyse the data sources and make judgements based on these.
  • Tagging – This is organising, structuring and attributing online data, meta-tagging web pages etc. Students need to be able understand and analyse the content of the pages to be able to tag it.

The article is definitely worth a look. There is a lot more than what I'm linking to here.

As for me, it dawned on me that much of what I produce* for the web covers several categories at once. Like this blog entry, it is part tagging (to remember and organize), part mash-up, part analysis. Depending on the subject matter, my mood and the amount of time I have, each one of those (or other) rubrics dominates.

*Whatever production means? Is my latest twitter a production? Is quoting someone and linking to them production. I think it is, but many nuances have to be applied to it.

Anyway, take a look at the article, it's worth a read.

Get rich and stay that way!

A new article by the Financial Times indicates that the truly rich are weathering the current financial crisis just fine, thank you.

World’s rich shrug off credit crunch

By Daniel Thomas in London

Published: April 20 2008 16:38 | Last updated: April 20 2008 16:38

The ranks of the world’s rich swelled to 8m during 2007 as the wealthy proved immune to the strains across global economies in the latter half of the year.

There was a 4.5 per cent increase last year in so-called “high net worth individuals”, those with assets of more than $1m, according to the 2008 wealth report compiled by Citi Private Bank and Knight Frank, published on Monday.

There was particularly strong growth of wealthy populations in the emerging economies of China and India, as well as those countries that have access to ­natural resources such as Kazakhstan.

Countries such as Brazil, Canada, Australia and ­Russia also each added more than 8,500 wealthy residents in 2007 on the back of the commodity boom.

The report says that the rate of growth of high net worth individuals has outpaced growth in both gross domestic product, and GDP per head, which it believes indicates that the rich are getting richer relative to their respective countries.

“This is not a perfect measure of relative wealth growth across income levels,” it says, “but there is an indication here that the ­plutonomy model retained its strength through 2007 and is in rude health.”

The US is still home to most of the world’s truly rich. High net worth individuals make up 1 per cent of the US population, with 3.1m people claiming to be dollar millionaires, and 460 to be billionaires.

Japan claims the next highest population of the wealthy, with 765,000 dollar millionaires, and then the UK, where there are 557,000.

The UK has seen the biggest increase in billionaires, however. Numbers rose by 40 per cent in 2007, from 35 to 49. China’s high net worth population grew by 14 per cent in 2007, and now number 373,000, almost as many as in Germany.

The report says there was little change in the investment activity of the very rich during the credit crunch in 2007, other than a shift away from structured finance. It says the very wealthy are “weathering the crunch” much better than insti­tutional investors, owing to the diversity of their port­folios.

More than 50 per cent invest in property, which has fuelled a rapid growth in luxury house prices across the world.

I'm not sure what the surprise is here, if any, but it does lend further (albeit circumstantial) evidence to the idea that the neoliberal economic regime will keep the world's weathly wealthy no matter what? Why? Well, if the economic system is tilted towards you and you pull most of the levers, why would capital flows reverse direction? Or, to put it differently, why would those in power do anything to put their wealth at risk?

The Bear Stearns example is pertinent. Rather than let the markets decide, the elite class used its power to subvert the market and pay off weathly stakeholders. Rather than fix the system, they protect themselves.

Sarkozy Judged Harshly..

Le Monde has a new poll out that shows Sarkozy's popularity flagging. I don't see this as anything surprising. Sarkozy's cozy relationship with the press brought him into power on his law-and-order populist campaign. Now that the people are seing what he is actually like, they begin to have second thoughts. That will sound familiar to most Americans.

Un an après l'élection de Nicolas Sarkozy, les Français portent un regard critique sur son bilan. L'action du président et de son gouvernement n'a pas permis d'améliorer la situation de la France et des Français, estiment 79 % des personnes interrogées par l'Ifop pour le Journal du Dimanche. Ils n'étaient encore que 59 % à le penser en novembre 2007.

Selon ce sondage publié dimanche 20 avril, 49% des Français estiment même que l'action du chef de l'Etat et du gouvernement n'a "pas du tout" amélioré la situation. Même chez les sympathisants de l'UMP, l'action du gouvernement n'obtient pas plus de 50 % d'approbation.

Une certaine impatience se lit également dans ce sondage, puisque parmi les réponses suggérées à la question posée - " Un an après l'élection de Nicolas Sarkozy, diriez-vous que l'action du président et de son gouvernement a permis d'améliorer la situation de la France et des Français ?" -, aucun sondé (ou trop peu pour être comptabilisé) n'a répondu qu'il était "trop tôt pour juger".

Par ailleurs, la cote de popularité de Nicolas Sarkozy a encore fléchi, pour atteindre son niveau le plus bas depuis son élection en mai 2007. Elle se situe désormais à 36% (- 1 point), loin derrière celle du premier ministre, François Fillon, 52% (- 6 points).

I don't think Sarkozy will be remembered fondly by the French, but that has nothing to do with his power. The thing to remember is this: the press will continue to fluff him up for he is one of them, a creature of sound bites and photo-ops. That said, at least in France oppositional politics function in their dysfunctionality, that is, they allow for some stasis comparatively.

On semicolons

If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
Kurt Vonnegut

Foreign Policy Magazine: At It Again

As I've said elsewhere, Foreign Policy is a magazine that even senators can understand. Please don't mistake that as a endorsement (it's not), for I say it merely to insult the senatorial simpletons that take it as truth.

Well, they're at it again. It's the usual Europe-bashing article that is part fear-mongering, part-insult and part untruth that comforts the American right-wing in its puerile belief that America is the best place that ever!

Samuel P. Huntington's minions sound thus the alarms:
Millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation. Educated in schools that teach a skewed ideology, they are exposed to a dogma that runs counter to core beliefs shared by many other Western countries. They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts. And doing so will not be easy. But not because these children are found in the madrasas of Pakistan or the state-controlled schools of Saudi Arabia. They are not. Rather, they live in two of the world’s great democracies—France and Germany.

It certainly sounds like students are reciting these "doctrines of dissent" like the masses at a North Korean rally. But it gets worse, because the Left--unlike the World Bank, the IMF, the folks at Davos --has an agenda that may spread:

The deep anti-market bias that French and Germans continue to teach challenges the conventional wisdom that it’s just a matter of time, thanks to the pressures of globalization, before much of the world agrees upon a supposedly “Western” model of free-market capitalism. Politicians in democracies cannot long fight the preferences of the majority of their constituents. So this bias will likely continue to circumscribe both European elections and policy outcomes. A likely alternative scenario may be that the changes wrought by globalization will awaken deeply held resentment against capitalism and, in many countries from Europe to Latin America, provide a fertile ground for populists and demagogues, a trend that is already manifesting itself in the sudden rise of many leftist movements today.
Ok. So you get the idea. This article is full of less-than-nuanced insult. It should be noted that the author quotes not a single statistic in this piece. De does not demonstrate that globalization has been much more beneficial for places like Europe and the U.S. than for, say, Côte d'Ivoire. He does not mention that the minimum wage has stagnated in the U.S. and Europe. He does not mention the increasing disparity between CEOs and the average worker. He does not give us statistics about child labor. Really, this is not serious work, Stefan.

I won't deny that some of the quotes above sound provocative, but they are couched in a language that is not scientific or analytical. He does not seem to have done a full survey of economics books, for example, but merely chosen the "juiciest quotes," some of which, by the way, do not sound outlandish at all. No, the only outlandish thing about the article is the constant need to draw unproven conclusions about the supposed "nature" of Europeans from a non-scientific "study."

But wait, who is Stefan? Well, FP tells us that "Stefan Theil is Newsweek’s European economics editor. He completed his research of American, French, and German textbooks and curricula while a trans-Atlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States."

That's the kicker. He has his hand on the media spigot draining into America. He has a position of true power, and, unfortunately, he appears to be either an intellectual fraud or weakling. Here we have, baldly exposed, the deepest thoughts and sincerest feelings of our media elite and Marshall fellow, Stefan Theil. Unsurprisingly for our media elite, he produces one of the most trite, vapid and insignificant pieces I have read since, well, the morning paper.