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Why Poor Countries Are Poor: The clues lie on a bumpy road leading to the world’s worst library.

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 14:18 by John Sinteur in category: News


You do not have to spend a long time in Cameroon to realize how much people resent the government. Much of government activity appears to be designed expressly to steal money from the people of Cameroon. According to the global watchdog Transparency International, Cameroon is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I was warned so starkly about government corruption, and the likelihood that officials at the airport would attempt to relieve me of my wad of West African francs, that I was more nervous about that than the risk of malaria or a gunpoint mugging in the back streets of Douala.

Many people have an optimistic view of politicians and civil servants—that they are all serving the people and doing their best to look after the interests of the country. Other people are more cynical, suggesting that many politicians are incompetent and often trade off the public interest against their own chances of re-election. The economist Mancur Olson proposed a working assumption that government’s motivations are darker still, and from it theorized that stable dictatorships should be worse for economic growth than democracies, but better than sheer instability.

Olson supposed that governments are simply bandits, people with the biggest guns who will turn up and take everything. That’s the starting point of his analysis—a starting point you will have no trouble accepting if you spend five minutes looking around you in Cameroon. As Sam said, “There is plenty of money…but they put it in their pockets.?

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Cost of Iraq war could surpass $1 trillion

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 14:01 by John Sinteur in category: Mess O'Potamia


One thing is certain about the Iraq war: It has cost a lot more than advertised. In fact, the tab grows by at least $200 million each and every day.

In the months leading up to the launch of the war three years ago, few Bush administration officials were willing to comment publicly on the potential costs to the United States. After all, no cost would have been too high if the United States faced an imminent threat from an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction, the war’s stated justification.

In fact, the economic ramifications are rarely included in the debate over whether to go to war, although some economists argue it is quite possible and useful to assess potential costs and benefits.

In any event, most estimates put forward by White House officials in 2002 and 2003 were relatively low compared with the nation’s gross domestic product, the size of the federal budget or the cost of past wars.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was the exception to the rule, offering an “upper bound” estimate of $100 billion to $200 billion in a September 2002 interview with The Wall Street Journal. That figure raised eyebrows at the time, although Lindsey argued the cost was small, adding, “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.?

U.S. direct spending on the war in Iraq already has surpassed the upper bound of Lindsey’s upper bound, and most economists attribute billions more in indirect costs to the war effort. Even if the U.S. exits Iraq within another three years, total direct and indirect costs to U.S. taxpayers will likely by more than $400 billion, and one estimate puts the total economic impact at up to $2 trillion.

To get a grip on it, observe that the CIA says the average annual purchasing power of Iraqi citizens is $3,400, and there are about 7,500,000 males between 15-65 years old in Iraq. Divide this out, and it turns out that by the time we’re “done” with Iraq, we could have hired each and every man in Iraq and paid them their average annual income for 39 years. The USA could have hired every man in Iraq for their entire career.

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Computer Networks: The Heralds of Resource Sharing

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 13:31 by John Sinteur in category: News

A nationwide network of computers that all talk to each other? Little cards that go into automatic bank machines? Computerized library catalogues? Could any of that really be possible?

A 1972 documentary on ARPAnet, the early internet. A very interesting look at the beginnings of what is now a huge part of most of our lives.

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Mutiny at the Cafe

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 13:10 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture, News



Like the four shining heroes raising Old Glory at Iwo Jima, like Martin Luther nailing his ten declarations to the chapel door, like , John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their hands at the Olympics in defiance; every act of resistance is a battle won, no matter how big or small. That is why, to my delight, walking past Blenz on Hastings to the Spartacus Books grand re-opening, I discovered a few notes taped to the door. Four employees, sick of slave wage labour and an ungrateful boss, up and left. Walked out, en masse, in the ultimate act of defiance against corporate middle management.

For that one moment, anyone who has ever had a shitty boss stood and rejoiced. Every one who has worked for minimum wage stood together in defiance. We raise our glass to you.

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The White House says spying on terrorism suspects without court approval is OK. What about physical searches?

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 12:25 by John Sinteur in category: News


In December, the New York Times disclosed the NSA’s warrantless electronic surveillance program, resulting in an angry reaction from President Bush. It has not previously been disclosed, however, that administration lawyers had cited the same legal authority to justify warrantless physical searches. But in a little-noticed white paper submitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Congress on January 19 justifying the legality of the NSA eavesdropping, Justice Department lawyers made a tacit case that President Bush also has the inherent authority to order such physical searches. In order to fulfill his duties as commander in chief, the 42-page white paper says, “a consistent understanding has developed that the president has inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless searches and surveillance within the United States for foreign intelligence purposes.” The memo cites congressional testimony of Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, in 1994 stating that the Justice Department “believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes.”

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the white paper cited the Gorelick testimony simply to bolster its legal defense of the NSA’s electronic surveillance program. Roehrkasse points out that Justice Department lawyers have told Congress that the NSA program “described by the president does not involve physical searches.” But John Martin, a former Justice Department attorney who prosecuted the two most important cases involving warrantless searches and surveillance, says the department is sending an unambiguous message to Congress. “They couldn’t make it clearer,” says Martin, “that they are also making the case for inherent presidential power to conduct warrantless physical searches.”

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One Morning in Haditha

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 12:19 by John Sinteur in category: Mess O'Potamia


The incident seemed like so many others from this war, the kind of tragedy that has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq. On the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha, a restive town in western Iraq. The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas. The next day a Marine communique from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that “gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire,” prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other. The Marines from Kilo Company held a memorial service for Terrazas at their camp in Haditha. They wrote messages like “T.J., you were a great friend. I’m going to miss seeing you around” on smooth stones and piled them in a funeral mound. And the war moved on.

But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.


Because the incident is officially under investigation, members of the Marine unit that was in Haditha on Nov. 19 are not allowed to speak with reporters. But the military’s own reconstruction of events and the accounts of town residents interviewed by Time—including six whose family members were killed that day—paint a picture of a devastatingly violent response by a group of U.S. troops who had lost one of their own to a deadly insurgent attack and believed they were under fire. Time obtained a videotape that purports to show the aftermath of the Marines’ assault and provides graphic documentation of its human toll. What happened in Haditha is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war—and what war can do to the people who fight it.

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Finding cancer early…

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 11:54 by John Sinteur in category: News


Bob Herbert is too infrequently linked these days, particularly since that blasted firewall. Herbert has an amazing talent for finding that small, absolutely critical story, presented clearly, simply and with devastating acuity. Tomorrow’s column is emblematic of that skill.

The federal government has a national breast and cervical cancer early detection program, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It provides screening and other important services to low-income women who do not have health insurance, or are underinsured.

There is agreement across the board that the program is a success. It saves lives and it saves money. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t reach enough women. At the moment there is only enough funding to screen one in five eligible women.

A sensible policy position for the Bush administration would be to expand funding for the program so that it reached everyone who was eligible. It terms of overall federal spending, the result would be a net decrease. Preventing cancer, or treating it early, is a lot less expensive than treating advanced cancer.

So what did this president do? He proposed a cut in the program of $1.4 million (a minuscule amount when you’re talking about the national budget), which would mean that 4,000 fewer women would have access to early detection.


The truly insane thing about this particular target is that the screening catches these cancers early on, when they are still relatively easy and inexpensive to treat. As one doctor participating in the program explains

“It won’t save money,” he said. “You don’t save money by not diagnosing cancer early. You end up spending more money because anyone who develops cancer will get into the health care system and they will be treated. And the cost at that point will be a lot more. The logic here is very simple: the later you diagnose cancer of the breast or cervix, the more expensive it is to the country.”

Katrina went a long way toward proving the lie of Bush’s compassionate conservatism. The conclusion of Herbert’s column pretty much seals the deal.

This is just one program in a range of cancer services that rely on support from the federal government. As if immune to the extent of human suffering involved, President Bush has proposed a barrage of cuts for these programs.

“What’s really amazing,” said Mr. Smith, “is that the president cut every cancer program. He cut the colorectal cancer program. He cut research at the National Cancer Institute. He cut literally every one of our cancer-specific programs. It’s incomprehensible.”

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How to spot a baby conservative

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 11:50 by John Sinteur in category: News


Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn’t going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.

But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids’ personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There’s no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it’s unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

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  1. A study from University of California – Berzerkely that associates undesirable personality traits with conservatives and admirable ones with liberals ? Gosh, what a surprise. I’m surprised they didn’t mention a correlation between conservative children and nose-picking or bad body-odor as well…

  2. It makes you wonder what a Texas or Utah college would find, right?

  3. Rather than looking suspiciously at the outcome, I’d be inclined (without reading any of the material linked to) to hypothesize a simple effect at work: Berkeley is a highly liberal community. Individuals who feel ostracised, insecure, or otherwise alienated from the community may be more likely to seek alternate values. Presto.

  4. I think we’re saying the same thing: a conservative community might very well show the reverse effect..

  5. My suspicion is based on day-to-day experience – the bombardment of liberal bias from the media in the States. My family’s opinions are also an example to me – yep, I’m the only ‘black sheep’ in the herd 🙂


Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 11:26 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture



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Weinig effect vermindering regelsdruk

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 11:15 by John Sinteur in category: Nederland is Gek!


Burgers en bedrijven merken weinig van de verminderde administratieve lasten. De overheid heeft flink ingezet op een verlichting van de regeldruk, maar volgens Tweede Kamerlid Nijs (VVD) met weinig succes.

Zij zegt dat in De Telegraaf. Ook premier Balkenende erkent dat er nog een slag gemaakt moet worden. Vandaag is er een speciale ministerraad die gewijd is aan dit onderwerp.

Burgers en bedrijven merken nog te weinig van de inspanningen van het kabinet, vindt Balkenende. Nijs is minder genuanceerd. “Het roer moet echt om?, vindt zij.

Ik merk alleen een vergroting van de administratieve lasten. Zo kreeg ik dit weekend een schrijven van het VROM, over het “verpakkingsbesluit“. Of ik als bedrijf maar even wilde aangeven hoe ik regel dat de verpakking van al mijn producten goed verwerkt werd, afvaltechnisch gezien. Helaas vermeldt de website dat ik geacht word helemaal niets te doen als ik van mening ben dat ik als bedrijf niet onder de regels val, anders had ik me even flink uit kunnen leven op dit stukje bureaucratie. Je kunt als bedrijf namelijk voldoen door je aan te sluiten bij een paar “collectieven” (ongetwijfeld tegen een flink tarief) en aan door dat collectief opgestelde regels te voldoen, of door zelf een formulier in te vullen. Daar waar alle documentatie op de site van het vrom in PDF formaat is, is dat formulier in Word formaat. Als leverancier van Open Source producten dus een uitgelezen kans om even flink terug te pesten: ik kan het formulier onmogelijk openen, dus niet invullen, en ik zou dus een mooi schrijven kunnen samenstellen waar ik dat in uitleg, en bovendien uitleg dat al mijn producten over Internet geleverd worden – keurig ingepakt in TCP headers (met verwijzigen naar de RFC’s) in grootverpakking van 1536 bytes, waarbij de headers in 100% gerecycelde electronen samengesteld zijn… afijn, u voelt, een fraai proza in de kiem gesmoord.

Maar vermindering regelsdruk? Niet echt.

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Leggy Lamb

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 9:37 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture

Belgian grower Maurice Peeters holds a six-leg lamb a day after its birth. The lamb cannot walk and has to be specially fed. A veterinary surgeon who examined it was reported as saying he would consider amputating the two superfluous legs if it managed to survive beyond a week. (AFP/BELGA/Yorick Jansens)

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This Posting Breaks the Law

Posted on March 20th, 2006 at 9:30 by John Sinteur in category: Intellectual Property


• The Earth revolves around the Sun.

• The speed of light is a constant.

• Apples fall to earth because of gravity.

• Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes.

• Elevated uric acid is linked to gout.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

Actually, I can’t make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient’s test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

(more info here)

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