So complicated as to defy concise explanation
Brent Snowcroft and Arnold Kantor have an editorial in tomorrow's NYT calling the Beijing talks between the US and the DPRK a surprising success. But on balance, they don't seem to be particularly optimistic. Fundamentally their plan is about trading disarmament for a security guarantee - something the US has so far been unwilling to do:
United States objectives likewise remain the same. We will not pay blackmail, and we will not buy the same horse twice. But we do want to stop North Korea from being a threat to peace and security in northeastern Asia and a supplier of weapons of mass destruction elsewhere. To realize these goals, we must dismantle the North Korean nuclear and missile programs in a way that is realistically irreversible and verifiable.

In return, we should be willing to join with others in providing credible assurances to North Korea that it need have no concern about its own security, so long as it does not threaten others. We should also make clear that we would be prepared to take a leading role in ending North Korea's political and economic isolation. Such a proposal would be a deal about a whole new horse, going far beyond the 1994 Agreed Framework.

This all sounds good, but how how is the US going to provide credible security assurances to North Korea after the invasion of Iraq and Donald Rumsfeld's rhetoric about the vindication of preemption as a military strategy? And, given the latter, is this really something the United States is willing to offer? I find it interesting that they haven't even released the details of the "considerable" demands in the latest North Korean offer (which has been rejected).

The North Koreans are increasingly looking like the reasonable party in ths dispute. Their demand - a guarantee that the United States won't attack them - is understandable given US policy in the past year or so. And it's pretty clear where this is all going to go eventually. As Fareed Zakaria points out, "We all know the solution is the Clinton solution. There's a light at the end of the tunnel; there's just no tunnel. Nothing's going to happen until the U.S. presses the issue."

By the way, Brent Snowcroft definitely does not speak for the Bush administration - in fact, I'm tempted to read this editorial as a way of patching up the dmaage done by Snowcroft's criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Does calling the meetings with North Korea a surprising success have something to do with the Bush family's paranoid obsession with loyalty? Or is it just a different rhetorical tack?

Wired and well-spoken
Here's more on Fareed Zakaria. The link comes via Gary Farber, who I'm glad to say is back to posting regularly - although it may have something to do with a SARS-like bout of pneumonia. Hope he gets well soon.

Wooden nickels
What's with all the changes at the US Mint in the past few years? I guess the new bills addressed security issues, but there's also this business of making nickels into collectors items:

Latest figures show nickel circulation at 18.9 billion. The Mint said it would increase production if the public began collecting the new nickels in large numbers.
So, if large numbers of nickels go out of circulation, where does their value go? Back to the US Mint? It's quite a trick to increase the money supply without causing inflation.

I don't know how successful the nickels will be, but a lot of people seem to be collecting the state quarters. If one in twenty Americans (and anecdotally this seems like a conservative estimate) collects a complete set of 50 state quarters, that's $12.50 x 13 million = $162.5 million... not a bad budget supplement for the US Mint!


The mutinous winds
Thanks, Haggai, for directing me to Gary Hart's review of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom. I definitely need to get myself a copy of this book. A couple of comments. Hart concludes:

Zakaria is a serious enough thinker and has produced a serious enough book to require serious attention. Either one-dimensional "democracy" or a more nuanced constitutional liberalism with institutional instruments underwriting individual liberty are the choices he offers for the 21st century. He sees no alternatives, though a lively debate stimulated by his book might produce some.
I'm in no position to dispute this, since I haven't read Zakaria's book, but I find it interesting that this was not the same kind of choice offered by Vladimir Popov, about whom I posted a couple weeks back. Popov's research was very clear: yes, transitioning countries with democractic governments and strong civil and property rights fare better than those with only democratic govermnents; but the countries which fared best of all were those without any political reforms - countries such Belarus, Uzbekistan, and China which are undemocratic but have moved decicively to create civil and property rights.

Faced with this data, a third alternative would be for a kind of phased transition that would leave democratic (ie political) reforms for later, pushing for civil and property rights instead to help stimulate economic growth. I'm not necessarily arguing for this, but it certainly merits consideration.

MORE: PG responds (in comments) that Iraq is different from China because of its oil. But Russia, the country with the richest endowment of natural resources in the world, has been a spectacular failure. Yes, there are differences between Iraq and Russia as well (I should also point out that Popov's research dealt only with countries transitioning from command to market economies), but the lack of clearly defined property rights in Russia has been disastrous, and there's no reason to think it work any better in Iraq. Property and civil rights are absolutely central to the functioning of a market economy, while political rights are not.

Why is it important to grow Iraq's economy? The whole neocon plan was to knock over the government in Baghdad and put in a democracy that would demonstrate the power of "our way of life" to nearby regimes. The neocons have always seen Iraq as the perfect candidate for this - the country sits on massive oil reserves and already has a forward-looking view of women and a highly educated populace. But new political rights aren't going to write an Iraqi success story by themselves. Economic growth is the only way to change people's everyday lives for the better, whether we're talking about Iraq or the rest of the Middle East.

And refuse thy name
There's been a lot of discussion about anonymous blogging lately - The Invisible Adjunct and Amitai Etzioni's posts come to mind - and I've been doing some thinking about it as a result.

When I started this blog (almost 3 months ago!), I knew I didn't want it to be anonymous. It didn't have anything to do with the communiatrian concerns voiced by Amitai Etizoni, or with any other strongly held beliefs about how one should blog. For some reason, committing intellectually to the words and ideas I write is tremendously difficult for me, and I knew that for this to be a valuable experience, I'd have to focre myself to do that. (By the way, the problem is even more pronounced when it's about artistic responsibility - as the premiere of this opera nears, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I won't be able to change things anymore.)

In the case of this blog, there's definitely been some hedging. I didn't tell (and in some cases, still haven't told) many of my friends and acquaintances, because I didn't want to have to deal with being able to imagine particular readers and wondering how my posts would play with them. Also, the name change was kind of a fiasco (just how did I end up with a name I hate?), and I seem to have made it worse by adding the subtitle at the top. But after only three months my comfort level has increased by a couple orders of magnitude.

Of course, I sympathize with others' reasons for writing anonymously. Just this weekend I had a sort of big brawl with my dad over race issues, and the topic has completely dominated my thoughts since then. But I feel uncomfortable writing about it here because people we both know will be reading, and some of the implications are pretty personal and specific. I may end up writing about it later, but if I do, it will be in a crystallized form, without the richness and warmth that the details would bring with them...


Substantial noninfringing uses
Obviously this has huge implications for the future of art. I haven't thought about it much, but my gut reaction is to applaud anything that will help rescue the human creative impulse out of the clutches of corporate greed and American consumerism. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much of what I consider art really has corporate handlers anyway. Maybe this will help level the playing field and open things up?

A sexy alternative to nuclear annihilation
Bruce Sterling discusses some of the motivations behind the Indian and Chinese space programs.

Oh, what a feeling
Yes, the new Toyota Prius gets 55 miles per gallon, but there's this too:

New hybrid technology will enable the 2004 Prius to accelerate to 60 m.p.h. in about 10.5 seconds, two seconds faster than the current model and on par with a 4-cylinder Camry sedan, Toyota Senior Vice President Don Esmond said at the car's unveiling at the New York Auto Show.
Sounds great... but do you suppose they make a manual?

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