Monday, February 21, 2011

Kudos, Angela Merkel

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German defense minister, has asked his university to withdraw his doctoral degree. Turns out some of it is plagiarized; how much is debatable. According to the BBC, a German newspaper identified two examples, with other texts attributed incorrectly. 

According to The Local, a website offering German news in English, participants in a Wiki-hunt have found "unattributed copying" on 270 of the thesis's nearly 400 pages. But the report is vague enough that I wouldn't be surprised to find that many of these incidences amount to three consecutive words that also appear in an earlier publication on the same topic. (What's this? A blogger who has little faith in the competence, impartiality and credibility of internet users? Gasp all you want, but yes.)

Anyway, that's not the point. My point is that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has shown abilities remarkable in any politician: the ability to keep things in perspective, the ability to recognise a mere tempest in a teapot, and the ability to discern what's important. She has declined to sack Guttenberg. From the BBC:

"I appointed Guttenberg as minister of defence," she told reporters. "I did not appoint him as an academic assistant or doctor. What is important to me is his work as minister of defence and he carries out these duties perfectly."

You go, girl.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Little Perspective

This is not a time when I'm proud to call myself a Republican. I may have to go back to saying I'm an Independent, but the truth is, I'm still a Republican. More and more, a closet Republican, but a Republican none the less.

Has anyone else noticed the pattern? Whenever Republicans get control of a legislative body, they run wild. It happened in the U.S. Congress in '94; it happened here in Texas when they got hold of the state legislature in '02; it's happening now in the U.S. House; and most embarrassingly in Wisconsin, where the Republican supermajority is running riot on issues that, I'm sure, most Wisconsans regarded as settled long ago. 

The excuse for the current gleeful excess is debt. The real reason is a deep hostility to government, approaching  pathological libertarianism in some cases. 

The Federal government's debt is on the order of almost eight trillion dollars: that's $8,000,000,000,000. That's a lot of money. It's also about 57% of gross domestic product. Both of these figures are high, in historical terms. While a dollar-to-dollar comparison is difficult, given inflation and the touchy-feely way that amounts are converted to comparable units (like "1982 dollars"), a comparison to gross domestic product is straightforward across the years.

Our public debt is now about what it was in 1955. The main differences, for those of us who live in the real world, are that (a) back in '55, we were coming down from World War II (which most people still think was worth going into debt for) and Korea (which most people think might not have been, but who knew at the time?), and (b) the level of debt was declining in '55, while now it is growing.

The main difference for Republicans is that, in '55, there was a Republican in the White House, so the state of affairs was Their Fault. Now there's a Democrat, so they will make their hay while the sun shines. For moderate Republicans like me, their childish glee at being able to attack, attack, attack is galling.

Yes, debt is high, but it's not so high as to warrant the kind of excesses the Republicans are laying out. It's less than Canada's, less than France's, less than Germany's, way less than Japan's, or Italy's, or Greece's, or India's. And I have no doubt that, if cooler heads can prevail over the Sturm und Drang of the Republican froth, it will be dealt with, and successfully, and we will work our way back to balanced budgets and declining debt levels, just as we did after 1994, when the Republicans last shot themselves in the foot on a national scale. That's probably what it will take.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Merger of Ideas

Here we have an example of the merger of two bad ideas: limiting freedom of speech, and criminalizing stupidity.

In 1958, an airplane carrying the Manchester United football (soccer) team crashed on a runway in Munich, Germany. Eight of the team's players were killed, as were 15 other people.

Last month, a tiny little football club called Crawley Town was drawn to face Manchester United -- which has been the most successful team of the past 20 years -- in the fifth round of the F.A. Cup competition, a year-long tournament that any football team in England can participate in. It's a big, big deal for Crawley Town, and they put together a song and video to celebrate the moment and raise money for the team's official charity. The video showed a band performing the song on stage, with celebrants dancing nearby. It was posted on YouTube, of course, as is everything of even trivial moment.

Turns out, one of the people dancing by the stage was filmed making gestures, the Guardian says, "simulating a plane crashing into the ground and holding up his fingers to count one, then nine, then five and eight to symbolise 1958." Some Manchester United supporter called the Crawley Town offices and complained about this tactless and offensive performance. The club, which had until then been unaware of the gestures, pulled the video and put up an edited version, which cuts the edges of the picture off to exclude the offending images. They also banned the offender for life from attending any of the club's matches.

Now, according to that same newspaper, this idiot has been "arrested under the Public Order Act on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress."

This offender is 19 years old. The Munich crash is ancient history to him, and is only of significance to most living Man U fans as an article of ancient history, like the Battle of Kosovo or the Siege of the Alamo. Banning this stupid kid for his entire life from the matches of his home-town football club is excessive; involving the heavy machinery of the State and branding him a criminal is an injustice of the first water. Sadly, it is the sort of injustice that is becoming routine, and not just in decayed old-world societies.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Wrong

Here's an example of what's wrong with news coverage in our society: The BBC reports today that comments  by the Irish singer Bono about a folk song are raising hackles in South Africa, because it includes the lyric "Shoot the Boer." ("Boer" is the Afrikaans word for farmer; it's also been used historically to distinguish settlers of Dutch ancestry from those of British ancestry, hence the Boer War; it also, according to this story, is used as a derogatory term for white people in general.) There is a push to get the song banned as hate speech -- something that is increasingly common in countries where there is no guarantee of free speech. 

Far down in the story is mention of the fact that "Since apartheid was banned in 1994, more than 3,000 white farmers have been murdered." 

I wonder why that fact hasn't gotten more attention in the world?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Technology Saves Us Again

Tired of sitting through those tedious, start-stop Super Bowl football games just to see the inventive and entertaining commercials? Now you can see all the commercials, one after another, without the twelve minutes of football dribbled in between like glitter on a pumpkin patch.

Finally, technology worth having.