Wednesday, March 26, 2008


There are two stories I recently came across that share a common thread. In both stories dissenters are trying to physically remove themselves from the society they are dissenting from. It seems to me though that the way we consider these is very different.

In the first story, the efforts of East Germans to flee the Soviet bloc through Bulgaria is explored. Apparently this is a little researched route that people used to try to get to the West. Interestingly, the Germans figured that as a Mediterranean country, Bulgaria would be more "southern" in its mentality, and therefore easier to escape. Little did they realize that the Stasi (Staatssicherheit or State Secret Police) had the same idea. They are still trying to figure out how many were killed. Apparently the Bulgarians buried some of the bodies where they fell. Others were placed in sealed coffins and sent to East Germany as "traffic accident" victims, to be buried ASAP. Imagine this. The last person they have documented being killed on the border was a 19 year old killed four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In the second story, American soldiers are retracing the steps of their forefathers to Canada seeking to avoid fighting a war they believe to be unjust. In the 1960s, Americans subject to the draft and involuntary service in the military were warmly welcomed in Canada as they sought to avoid service. Now soldiers who volunteered for the military are seeking asylum in Canada to avoid going to Iraq. The Canadians are not nearly so welcoming this time. This is partly political, as the current Canadian government is much more supportive of the United States than was Pierre Trudeau. However, a second objection must be that unlike the people in the 1960s, these soldiers volunteered. The society they are trying to flee is one they sought out. It makes it harder to support them when they seek to avoid the basic duty of a soldier.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Oh, Uganda. On good days you conjure images of Garrett Morris as bad-house-guest Idi Amin ("Idi, someone slaughtered an antelope in the kitchen and did not clean it up." "It was not me! Why do you think it was me?"), or Forest Whitaker as the Last King of Scotland. On bad days you conjure images of expelled Indians having to flee to the UK, and hundreds of thousands murdered.

Well, now there is something else to picture. First, there is the National Mosque. Actually, the Gadhafi National Mosque, since Mo Gadhafi of Libya paid to finish it. See, they have naming rights in Africa too. Anyway, the National Mosque was begun by Idi Amin in 1972 and finished this week. Did it take so long because Uganda is too poor to build a National Mosque, or because Uganda is only 12% Muslim and it was not a national priority? I don't know. Maybe both.

Anyway, if Mo's Mosque doesn't do it for you, there is always the fact that a riot between the security details broke out at the dedication. The melee was apparently between Ugandan and Libyan security but guards from Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti were apparently injured. The leaders of Uganda and Rwanda were jostled while the Vice President of Tanzania was knocked over. Guns were drawn. Allegations of racism were made. The leader of Somalia was described as "visibly uneasy" when guns were drawn. As an aside, does Somalia even really exist? And is its leader really made uneasy by guns?

Anyway, through it all the Ugandans were able to keep their history in perspective, with one man being quoted thus:
Many Muslims interviewed said the mosque's opening evoked sweet memories of Amin, the deceased dictator. "It is a great day and thanks be to Allah for the completion," said Salim Abdul Noor, 39. "This should remind us that while Amin is demonized as Africa's worst dictator, there are many things he did for this country that successive governments largely depend on, and much of the completed installations and structures like this beautiful mosque was Amin's dream, may Allah rest him in peace."
I think lots of people are just happy that Allah rested Amin.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


One of the recurring themes I've heard in the Eliot Spitzer mess is that the U.S. is too "puritanical" about sex, and that prostitution ought to be decriminalized. Generally people point to the free-and-easy Dutch as an example of how it ought to be done.

Make no mistake. I strongly suspect that the Dutch have worked out a good system for them, given their history and culture. However, I just don't see it transferring to the United States. And it is not because of America's Puritan past. So many people have migrated to America who didn't have any idea what a Pilgrim was that there is no way they are all imbued with the Puritan spirit. The reason the Dutch model won't easily transfer to the U.S. is that the Dutch have more to their model than legalized pot and hookers.

This story is in German, but let me summarize. After two years of debate the Dutch decided to criminalize one act of sodomy. Sex with an animal, if the sex is either abuse of the animal, or is used to make pornography. Hear that Elsie? You are just a little safer today than you were yesterday. Moo to that!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I never explicitly blog about work, but global trade is an interest of mine, as well as what I do for a living. Thus, I do sometimes blog about bigger picture issues. This is one of those times. In a short essay entitled Lessons from the History of Trade and War, Ronald Findlay and Kevin O'Rourke discuss not only the nature of globalization, but what the last 1,000 years of world trade tell us about the future. Very interesting stuff.

While the global economy seems like it is driven by technology and transportation, neither of which is likely to go away in the foreseeable future, Findlay and O'Rourke argue that globalization is actually as much political as technological. Thus, in the 19th Century, with new technology (the Industrial Revolution) and transportation (steamships and railroads) creating a wave of globalization, it looked as if the world was on an irreversible track of closer economic relations. What happened?

Well, arguably, politics happened. First, the major trading countries in Europe imposed high agricultural tariffs to ensure that their farmers were not overwhelmed by Russian and New World agriculture. Ensuring your food supply is, of course, a vital political act. Economics would tell you to maximize efficiency by buying more cheaply that food that you could and grow what you are better suited to grow. Possible parallels today? How about the hostility of many Americans to free trade, as well as the end of the Washington Consensus (with regard to trade policy in particular), and the French rejection of the European constitution in 2005.

Next, keep in mind that Africa and big parts of Asia were "globalized" by being colonized. Once pressure toward decolonization began, these markets were effectively decoupled from the globalized economy. Later communism (and autarky in some places) further separated parts of the formerly globalized world from the world trade system. Now we are trying to reintegrate these places, as well as manage the entry of China and India into the group of major players. However, that "management" is likely to be as much a political act as an economic act, since China, in particular, is already integrated as a major power economically.

Anyway, it is interesting stuff and definitely merits reading the actual essay.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


It appears that New York's governor, Eliot Spitzer, got caught up in the investigation of a prostitution ring. There a few implications of this.

First, Spitzer is in political trouble, not to mention the trouble with his family. I'm guessing that Spitzer doesn't have $4 million for an eight carat purple diamond for the wife, a la Kobe. I'm also guessing that Spitzer won't be able to skate by with the alleged Charlie Sheen line about being implicated with prostitutes: "I don't pay women for sex. I pay them to leave afterwards." Of course, after he resigns he'll just become an investment banker and make millions. Sigh.

Second, it turns out that the Reno 911 episode with the prostitution sting (Jones ends up having sex with her) is truer than we thought. Said the Tribune:
According to the affidavit, federal investigators in late 2006 received information from a former prostitute who worked for the ring and managed to have an undercover agent set up dates -- costing thousands of dollars each -- with prostitutes through the Emperors Club, according to the affidavit.

After the undercover agent gathered enough evidence about crimes allegedly committed by those involved in the Emperors Club, authorities secured wiretaps beginning last October. It was a result of the taps, as well as text messages, that the investigation picked up evidence that Spitzer had been using the club's services, court records indicated.

Dates that are thousands of dollars each? Several of them? Seems like in most prostitution situations, just the agreement to have sex for money would cause an arrest. Not "several" "dates." After those several dates they started really investigating I guess.

Finally, the other interesting thing is that Spitzer is reported to have been notorious for requesting unsafe sex acts. Supposedly the prostitutes regularly turned him down, but if he thought he had trouble at home for visiting prostitutes, wait until his wife realizes she needs to get checked by her doctor because of his apparent proclivities. Oy.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Traditionally, people wanting to get married on short notice have headed to Las Vegas. This is because the state of Nevada has relatively liberal laws about getting a marriage license. However, you have to get to Nevada to get married in Vegas, or Reno, or your Nevada location of choice.

What do you do if you either don't want to go to Nevada, or can't go to Nevada? Well, try Montana. The New York Times has a story about the fact that Montana is the only state in the union that allows double proxy weddings. That means that neither the bride, nor the groom is actually required to be in Montana for the wedding. Of course, the spoil sports in the state legislature have required that one party to the wedding either be a Montana resident, or an active-duty member of the military.

This is kind of an interesting service. I mean, there are people scattered around the world for the military who for reasons all their own want to be married sooner, rather than later. Montana will help them out. That's probably a good thing. Interesting enough, this web page will smooth things over in Montana for you, or apparently El Salvador, and to a lesser extent, Colorado (where one party has to be present). Now the real question is, how would the military react if Montana announced they had done gay double proxy weddings?

Friday, March 07, 2008


Today in the New York Post (which is still looked upon unfavorably at WAYLA after its run in with Public Enemy) reported that Kyle "Tight Pants" Farnsworth continues to blame everyone but himself for the fact that he sucks. Turns out it was Joe Torre's fault that he has been a bust in New York, with a side of blame for Ron Guidry.

Farnsworth is a walking disaster. He has been in a few good fights. In 2003 he beat Paul Wilson down (although sadly I cannot find video of it). In 2004 he kicked an AC unit at Wrigley and sprained his knee. In 2005 he got into a brawl with the Royals and handed out another beat down (again, no video). In 2007 he almost got in a fight with Jorge Posada (his teammate) on the mound after Farnsworth threw the wrong pitch and hurt Posada. He's 28-45 lifetime, with an ERA of 4.47.

Why do teams keep trying with this guy? Well, he's 6'4" and 235. He looks like he SHOULD be able to pitch. He just can't. By the way, WAYLA hated on Tight Pants in 2003 here, 2004 here (although I was a little hopeful in 2004), and 2005 here. This is a long-standing issue.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Oh. My. God. This announcer is speaking English, of a variety. I know, this is a soccer clip, but it's still great. Check it out starting at about 30 seconds, when they show Tom "I'm a Scientologist, and not a Homosexual" Cruise.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The current Atlantic Monthly has a very interesting piece about the future of the exurbs. Actually, the article purports to also discuss the future of inner-ring suburbs, but it seems to me that they are actually identifying two separate phenomena in slum development. Therefore, I am focused on the exurbs.

In any case, it appears that in some areas where new tract housing was built on urban fringes, activity normally associated with inner cities has started to occur. People are seeing vacant houses stripped of copper wire (previously a ghetto phenomenon), and crime rapidly rising. This is attributed to the number of houses vacant after mortgage foreclosures, as well as the number of buildings never occuppied. Why won't these communities, or to be honest, farm fields full of houses, bounce back once the economy rights itself? Well, according to the author it is because, and I am simplifying here, people don't want to live in the exurbs anymore anyway. The baby boomers are dumping their suburban housing and moving into lofts in the inner city. There are not enough families out there to replace them. Consequently, these developments will end up being cheap housing for people with no other options.

Does the author have a point? Maybe. I mean, baby boomers do seem to be moving into buildings in the Loop, for instance. And some of the places that are "suburbs" now have never been suburbs in my life. Take Frankfort, Illinois. This used to be well beyond what anyone meant when they say suburbs. Now it is referred to as suburban Frankfort on the news. If you are looking at a house in a field 10 miles southwest of Frankfort and you work in the city, you are in commuting hell. I can see why people would decide not live there. Makes a lot of sense to me.

However, I have to say, I have doubts about these places as future slums. First, if they are a pain in the ass to get to in your Hummer, I bet they are a pain in the ass for poor people to get to. In addition, the lack of infrastructure (and stores, etc.) that will drive the middle class out will make poor people unlikely to live in the area. Slums may be food deserts, but they have some store that sells some food. Rolling Pines exurb has nothing. No stores, no nothing. I just don't see people fleeing the wild, wild West at Sacramento Blvd and Madison St to get cheap housing in New Lenox, or Frankfort.

I will say this though. If the author is right, social service agencies, municipal governments, and all of the other agencies that try to alleviate poverty will be hard-pressed to get to these new slum dwellers. There are not jobs in these areas, this is not transportation, and they are near nothing. Let's hope this author is wrong.

By the way, want to see some fun googling? Google the intersection of Damen Avenue and Madison Street in Chicago. That is the west edge of the House that Jordan Built. Use streetview to head west on Madison as far as you dare. Not good times.

UPDATE: An anonymous commentor via e-mail says:
I think poor people will live in places like that if they have no choice, because they already do. Look at places like Harvey, Ford Heights,_Illinois or Phoenix . They are isolated from the city, present no opportunities for advancement, have no city services or places to even buy food and as much or more crime than the city, completely corrupt police and government and lousy schools and you need a car to get everywhere. It is the worst of all worlds. North Lawndale or Robert Taylor would be a step up. This is the shopping center in Harvey:
This is the terrible situation I was talking about, but these places are not exurbs. These are (pretty) close-in suburbs, and I think that their situation is caused by different factors than the article was discussing. Still, imagine all of these problems, but in otherwise rural Kane county. Yikes!