Monthly Archives: November 2007

US imperialism

Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist, says “the challenge for the US now will be to avoid sliding straight from imperialism to isolationism”. The imperial idea became fashionable in 2003, he notes, when it was driven by the likes of Dick Cheney and other conservatives. It has declined in popularity since.

Imperial analogies still fascinate America. But the latest American books on empire are markedly less optimistic than the ones appearing a couple of years ago. Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome? – which made the best-seller lists this year – argues that the US is in danger of emulating Rome’s decline and fall by succumbing to Roman-style corruption and arrogance. America needs to rediscover its civic virtues.

Rome is the empire to which most parallels are drawn, which is a fair enough point when you consider how much Roman imagery and ideas have been incorporated into American institutions. Rome, however, did not fall because of “corruption and arrogance”, though these did play a role in its decline. Economic mismanagement and rampant inflation were major contributors to the empire’s collapse — and these are lessons from which the US (and other world powers) can learn.

The conservatives who embraced the word “empire” a few years ago were being deliberately provocative. If America was indeed in something like an “imperial” mood in 2003, it simply meant the US was determined to use its economic and military pre-eminence to change the world. If that involved invading, occupying and reshaping whole countries, so be it.

Four years on, “imperialism” looks a lot harder and less attractive. America’s generals fret publicly that their formidable military machine could be “broken” in Iraq. The fiscal deficit is mounting and the dollar is falling.

However, Rachman points to a future for Amercia’s global position — because it is so tied to the world’s economic well-being.

China, India and even a resurgent Russia are emulating America by trading their way to greatness. Their ruling elites are directly enriched by globalisation.

I wonder if the story will change in 10 or 15 years’ time. Will China have overcome most of its internal problems and truly emerged as a world power? Will India be hot on its heels? Or will the impending climate catastrophe lead to an entirely different world order?

That's it, we're screwed

From the Associated Press:

The Earth is hurtling toward a warmer climate at a quickening pace, a Nobel-winning U.N. scientific panel said in a landmark report released Saturday, warning of inevitable human suffering and the threat of extinction for some species.

As early as 2020, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages, residents of Asia’s megacities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding, Europeans can expect extensive species loss, and North Americans will experience longer and hotter heat waves and greater competition for water, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says.

The potential impact of global warming is “so severe and so sweeping that only urgent, global action will do,” Ban told the IPCC after it issued its fourth and final report this year…

The report is important because it is adopted by consensus, meaning countries accept the underlying science and cannot disavow its conclusions. While it does not commit governments to a specific course of action, it provides a common scientific baseline for the political talks [in Bali next month].

Maybe I’ll soon have to change the name of this blog to Tiny Underwater-Yet-Arid Planet.

Earthset in high definition



Above is one of the first high definition photos taken from the lunar surface.  It was shot by the Japanese probe Kaguya.

This still image was cut out from a moving image taken by the HDTV onboard the Kaguya at 12:07 p.m. on November 7, 2007 (Japan Standard Time, JST,) then sent to the JAXA Usuda Deep Space Center.
In the image, the Moon’s surface is near the South Pole, and we can see the Australian Continent (centre left) and the Asian Continent (lower right) on the Earth. (In this image, the upper side of the Earth is the Southern Hemisphere, thus the Australian Continent looks upside-down.)

Follow the link above for more of the images.

Standing down

The loyalist Ulster Defence Association has ordered its military wing, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, to stand down. All active units will cease operations from midnight.

In an Armistice Day statement from the UDA leadership, read out at memorials to their dead colleagues, they said all weaponry would be put beyond use [though not formally decommissioned] and all military intelligence destroyed.

They said they were making the move because the military war was over and the struggle to maintain the union was on a new and more complex battlefield.

The UDA sent out a general order to all members not to be involved in crime or criminality, and it said those who had joined its ranks for such purposes had to be rooted out.

So long, guys. Don’t let the door of history kick you in the ass on the way out.


I’ve installed WordPress 2.3.1. Let me know if you see anything screwy — I’m a bit annoyed they scrapped the Technorati feed for incoming links in favour of Blogsearch, but what can you do?


Whythawk over on Scholars & Rogues has written an interesting piece on Microsoft’s business strategy.

He points out that while the computer desktop “may have gone into a terminal holding pattern”, gaming and social networking have exploded (Halo 3 has made the computing giant a fortune, while its investment in Facebook shows how the established business players are flocking to get a piece of the rising action).

But the passage I liked best was the explanation for why Vista hasn’t taken off:

With each iteration [of Windows] Microsoft learned and improved. When XP came out it all seemed to come together.

It’s easy to mock Microsoft, but it’s just as easy to mock Toyota or Hyundai or any of the motor manufacturers that aim squarely in the middle-market. If you’re a super-geek (Linux) or super-artiste (Apple) then Microsoft seems very middle-class.

But 90% of the work I do (and most office-workers) is word-processing and spreadsheets. I haven’t needed a faster machine or better office package since 2001. I still use my same version of Office and XP from then. It’s stable and more than sufficient.

Many people felt the same way. Hence the rather hum-drum response to Vista.

Agree of disagree? You know where the comments box is…