mr. zilla goes to town

Thursday, September 28, 2006

UNfunny

The Venezuelan President went to the U.N. and called Bush the devil. You could tell Bush was offended, because his tail stopped wagging. Bush said, "I would love to answer your ridiculous charge that I'm the devil, but I'm a little too busy this week trying to unite my party behind torturing people." — Bill Maher


Via Past Peak.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

let the sunshine in


I recently came across one of the most depressing sites on the internet. It was a brief table that laid out in precise astronomical detail the changing number of hours of daylight that a person lingering in the latitude and longitude of Oxford was in for over the next three months. I can’t bear to repeat the figures it showed for December. Living in the UK is really quite marvellous, but the approaching winter grey & dark is the one thing that fills me with dread.

Still, I’ve been heartened by news that some disinfecting sunshine will at least (and at last) begin to penetrate a couple of other dark corners soon:
The German government has decided to back the European Commission’s campaign to reveal the names of the farmers and farm businesses benefiting from the Union’s €60 billion annual spending on agriculture, according to EU officials.

Germany was one of five member states which were resisting Kallas’s initiative, and its decision to back the campaign is a major boost for efforts to bring the names of recipients into the open. Campaigners for greater transparency over farm support payments welcomed the decision. Jack Thurston of farmsubsidy.org, which monitors which member states publish what information, said that getting Germany on board would encourage the few remaining countries to follow suit. “There is a huge domino effect here. It becomes extremely difficult to sustain a policy of secrecy once other countries agree to transparency,” he said. Berlin’s support is particularly important because Germany is the largest gross and net contributor to the EU’s budget, which will average €123bn a year in 2007-13. It is also a major beneficiary of financial support for farmers and rural areas, receiving around €6.5bn in 2005.

And across the pond, the US House and Senate have now both passed bills to vastly increase the visibility to the public of federal porkbarreling:

WASHINGTON --- House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Barack Obama (Ill.), and Tom Carper (Del.), and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) today announced that they have reached agreement on legislation to increase accountability and transparency by establishing a public database to track federal grants and contracts.

"This process has focused on enhancing the accountability and transparency in the federal budget process," Blunt, Boehner, and Davis said. "The federal government awards approximately $300 billion in grants to roughly 30,000 different organizations. Each year, roughly one million contracts exceed the $25,000 reporting threshold. We need to be sure that money is spent wisely. Our legislation creates a transparent system for reviewing these expenditures so that Congress, the press, and the American public have the information they need to conduct proper oversight of the use of our tax dollars. The package we've agreed to move requires the Administration to establish searchable databases for both grants and contracts."

Can’t wait to watch the fireworks as the US political blogs get their claws into this database. I do have an autumn resolution though to try to move on from my addiction to US politics. It's been going on two years since I left DC, and it's surely time to divert some time into speculation upon the impending Brown vs Cameron matchup.

After the midterms, anyway.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

only the coolest 4 year old on the planet.

absurd skills. mad charisma. wow.



And now check out what his two year old brother can do.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

now there's something curious

In today's Guardian:

The point at which President Hugo Chávez decided that London should serve as a model for services and governance in Caracas was not immediately apparent. He came in May, visited City Hall amid much controversy and fanfare, and was soon gone.

But the result of his visit is likely to be an extraordinary deal struck with London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, that would see Caracas benefit from the capital's expertise in policing, tourism, transport, housing and waste disposal.

London, meanwhile, would gain the most obvious asset the Venezuelans have to give: cheap oil. Possibly more than a million barrels of the stuff.

I can't wait to see the Tories marching in the street, chanting "No governance for oil! No governance for oil!" But wait, there's more. Turns out to not be completely unique. I knew Venezuela had an oil-for-doctors exchange going on with Cuba, but not this:
Last year Venezuela gave more than 45m litres at 40% below market prices to the poor of Boston and New York.

I found that a rather impressive stat until I noticed the litres part. Who talks about oil in litres? Silly Guardian journos copying out talking points I imagine. That's only about 300,000 barrels, or about 15% of US oil consumption for just 1 day a year, so the one million barrels mooted for London is a slightly larger token then.

I wonder to what extent Chavez' oil-barter diplomacy is a deliberate side-step around supporting the US dollar as the standard of exchange. There's been some talk about the establishment of a Euro-denominated Iranian oil bourse as a counterweight, which would incidentally thoroughly undermine US economic hegemony, causing some speculation that this was in fact one of the key but unspoken reasons for US emnity towards Iran.

But it seems from this recent interview with Chris Cooke, the originator of the idea, that plans for the Iranian bourse aren't as far along as imagined. Nor, at least in this interview, is his intent to upset the strategic apple cart.
CC: If we could just look at the Euro first - there aren't enough Euros to go around to even begin to cope with demand that would be needed if we were to start pricing in euros, and I don't think the European Central Bank would start printing those quantities, that would be almost a declaration of war by the ECB on the US. I don't see that as a practicable proposition. Other currencies I see as pretty peripheral. I don't see any other currency other than the dollar being fit for purpose.

Rather, he's looking to hamstring speculators and decrease volatility and possibly price:

If we could go back to your original proposal idea, which as I understand it is putting producers and consumers together - you described it as a "Napster" of the oil industry?

CC: Yes, the logic of the internet is to cut out unneccessary intermediaries - disintermediation - and to connect the ultimate buyer and the ultimate seller more directly. At the moment the middlemen own the market, and set the rules to suit themselves. Profits are far higher by the middlemen than they need to be. They are making super-profits because of the way the market is. I don't begrudge intermediaries a return on capital, but I do begrudge them a ridiculous return on capital, particularly when they are using unfair or inequitable ways of trading, abuse of market information, that sort of thing, which is definitely what goes on now.


Hmm. Bit of a relief really; a systemic change that would undermine the fragile stability of the US economy at this point would be bad for everyone. What a relief we can get back to only worrying about climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Merry Nine One One

Georgie:
On this solemn anniversary, we rededicate ourselves to this cause. Our nation has endured trials, and we face a difficult road ahead. Winning this war will require the determined efforts of a unified country, and we must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us. We will defeat our enemies. We will protect our people. And we will lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty.

Ummmm.... kay:
Women's groups in Afghanistan want an urgent meeting with Afghan ministers and MPs to protest against a plan to reintroduce the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice which was first set up by the Taliban.

media matters

Al-Jazeera presents an object(ivity) lesson:

The summer of 2006 marked an important milestone for Arab media. Israel and Hezbollah were locked in a bitter conflict that would claim the lives of more than 150 Israelis and an estimated 1,000 Lebanese – a third of them children. Each day brought brutal new images of civilian casualties.

On American television, leading journalists, such as CNN's star presenters Anderson Cooper and John Roberts, regularly referred to Hezbollah as "terrorists" or a "terrorist militia," without bothering to attribute the label to Israeli or U.S. sources. But on the news broadcasts of the Arab world's dominant all-news channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, such polarizing language was rarely heard.

The irony, of course, is that Al-Jazeera was condemned by the Bush administration for using terms like "martyr," "aggression" and "terrorism" in describing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Arab journalists should be "unbiased" like their colleagues in America, was the constant refrain from Washington.

"The words 'terror' and 'terrorist' are not in our dictionary," Ahmed Sheikh, Al-Jazeera's chief editor, told me in late summer, as a shaky cease-fire took hold in southern Lebanon. "We only use them when we are quoting someone." Nor were dead civilians or fighters referred to as shaheen, Arabic for "martyr."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

He is the larger-than-life legend that leaps from your TV to teach and to fascinate. A man who embodies the purposeful strength and humour that symbolises Australia. A benefactor whose largesse affects thousands of people every year. He is a conservationist with tens of thousands of acres of natural habitat under his care. He's a staunch ally to the animals that call Australia home, and not just the cute ones. He has put himself at the service of governments and animal aid agencies worldwide. He is the publisher of scientific papers on Australian fauna. He is gifted, he is brave, he is a husband, he is a father, and he knows his wildlife. He is also crazy, crazy with a big heart. That's the kind of crazy the world needs more of.


This is Steve Irwin and this is his story.