How Difficult Can It Be?

January 17, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

New York Times:

When the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott arrived at the South Pole only to find that he had been beaten there by Roald Amundsen and his team of Norwegians, he was despondent. “Great God! This is an awful place,” he lamented in his diary.

Awful as it may be, it is about to get a lot of foot traffic. Hundreds of people — tourists, adventurers and history buffs — are lining up to visit the South Pole in honor of the 100th anniversaries of Amundsen’s arrival (on Dec. 14, 1911) and Scott’s (Jan. 17, 1912). The preparations are already speeding along.

Some people intend to ski the exact routes of Amundsen and Scott, reading the explorers’ diaries daily and blogging about the experience. Others will drive to the pole by truck. For those seeking less exertion, there will be catered flights to the pole, including several that will let passengers off a few miles away so they can ski the remaining stretch and feel the thrill of victory.

One of the many tour operators trying to cash in on the fervor is Polar Explorers, a company in suburban Chicago that is charging $40,500 for a flight to the pole on either anniversary (weather permitting). People who want to be dropped off a degree or two away so they can ski in will pay up to $57,500.

“We’re going to have lots of Champagne toasts and take a lot of pictures, and you can call home to your loved ones from the pole,” said Annie Aggens of Polar Explorers. “It’s super exciting just to walk in the footsteps of these early explorers.”

Needless to say, people will not want to replicate Scott’s entire expedition. He and his men died in a blizzard during the 800-mile trek back from the pole, huddled in a tent that was, famously, just 11 miles from a vital cache of supplies.

Instead, many people plan to ski to the pole, then fly back. One of them is Matt Elliott, a 28-year-old Briton, who will compete in a 440-mile ski race, pulling 200 pounds of gear the whole way. A resident of Windsor, he works for his family’s paper wholesaling business and calls himself “a complete polar novice.”

He has never tried cross-country skiing, and he is not a big fan of cold weather, but he has been practicing by dragging two car tires on a rope for several hours at a time…

Read it all.

Foreign Policy:

Senior Western and Arab diplomats as well as leaders of civil society gathered this week at the seventh annual Forum for the Future in Doha. In the background was the chaos and violence provoked by the incompetence and paralysis of Arab regimes: riots in Tunisia and Algeria, the killing of Christians in Egypt, the collapse of the government in Lebanon. You will thus be relieved to learn that the draft recommendations for action by the forum call for the support for “science, technology and innovation” and “corporate social responsibility,” as well as the establishment of “youth exchange programs” and a “Gender Institute.” That ought to calm the waters.

The Forum for the Future is one of the remnants of U.S. President George W. Bush’s campaign to promote democracy in the Middle East that the Barack Obama administration, despite initial skepticism, has embraced. Scott Carpenter, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs during Bush’s first term, says that as they contemplated how to press for change in the region, he and his colleagues looked back to the model of the Helsinki process in the Cold War, in which the Soviet Union reluctantly accepted a series of human rights principles in exchange for commitments from the West on technology transfers and the like. The premise was that you could work with regimes, rather than simply confront them. “We wanted to have buy-in from the states to the degree that we could,” Carpenter says. The Forum for the Future was launched in 2004 to bring together the governments of the G-8 countries, Arab regimes, and Arab civil society groups under a charter laying out principles on both modernization and democratic development. The NGOs would hold the states to their pledges as human rights activists had done with the Soviet Union.

It didn’t work out that way. At the second meeting of the forum, in Bahrain in 2005, Bush administration officials tried to pass a declaration of principles, but Egypt and Tunisia, among others, objected to a passage welcoming all NGOs. They insisted that only officially registered groups — i.e., tame ones — could be included. The Bahrain declaration collapsed. Forum members did authorize the creation of the Foundation for the Future (someone apparently had a penchant for gee-whiz names) which is based in Amman and distributes grants to local NGOs, many of them genuinely worthy organizations doing difficult work on human rights and the rule of law. But the initial hope that these groups would hold Arab states accountable died in Bahrain as well. “The strategic purpose,” Carpenter concedes, “hasn’t been fulfilled.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. “The Arab foreign ministers,” as one prominent figure in the democracy-promotion world said to me, “have learned from these meetings exactly how to thwart democracy, not how to help it.” The sessions have taught local leaders the dangers of Western-supported and genuinely autonomous NGOs, and regimes across the Arab world have cracked down on them. Many human rights groups have been hounded out of existence; only the most reliably docile ones are permitted inside the forum’s doors. At last year’s event, in Marrakesh, the invited NGOs were actually locked out of the room until Western diplomats got them admitted. In advance of the current meeting in Doha, Bahey el-Din Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, criticized the forum as a “debating club” with no interest in democratization. When I called him in Cairo, Hassan said that he had been invited to Doha, but declined to go. Although the forum provides a useful setting for people like him to meet one another and sit down with, and even criticize, government officials, Hassan said that he would rather see it die than permit Arab leaders to continue using it to proclaim their commitment to democratic change. It is, he said, “a waste not only of time but of resources…”

Read it all.

We live in an age of abundance and plenty. Before around 1800, the average European ground out a basic existence on about $3 a day, while today the average American enjoys around $127 a day in food, shelter, energy, and other goods. Millenniums of bare subsistence have given way to two centuries of luxury. What happened?

That’s the question Deirdre McCloskey, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is asking in a sweeping multivolume account of the birth of the Industrial Revolution: the period, starting around 1800, when life improved, suddenly and chaotically, for millions of people across the Western world, as factories opened, cities exploded, and technologies began multiplying.

Economists and historians have varied explanations for what set off the industrial bomb. Most are quantitative in nature: They focus on the expansion of the labor market, on new inventions, or on new patterns of trade or investment. But McCloskey, who also teaches literature and philosophy, has a different theory. As she sees it, it was culture, not economics, that lit the fuse. In her new book, “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World,” she argues that changing attitudes toward innovation and money-making, rather than changing technologies or markets, unleashed industrialization. Essentially, people started seeing business as a dignified pursuit, and it boomed.

McCloskey’s explanation fills a gap others have left unfilled. There were big, economically vibrant cities filled with smart people all around the globe — so why did the Industrial Revolution hit Europe and America first? According to McCloskey, it was only there that what she calls the “bourgeois revaluation” persuaded ordinary people not only that they could be entrepreneurs, but also that their neighbors would respect them for it.

In pre-bourgeois Europe, the preservation of order was more important than the generation of new ideas. Power was centralized in royal families and professional guilds. Most importantly, McCloskey argues, ordinary people revered aristocrats and looked down on commercial pursuits. Then, slowly, over the two centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution, culture changed. A new, bourgeois way of life took hold, in which individuals were allowed and encouraged to be creative self-starters. Owning a shop, running a factory, or inventing a machine had been vulgar pursuits — now they were seen as worthwhile, useful, and dignified. Smart kids, instead of wanting to be gentlemen, aspired to become inventors. One of McCloskey’s central insights is that dignified businesspeople act better than undignified ones. As businesspeople and innovators learned to treat one another with increasing honesty, curiosity, and respect, the Industrial Revolution took off.

Thus the bourgeois world in which we live today was born. McCloskey argues that you can see its union of creativity, virtue, and money-making everywhere. She points to the fact that one in 11 Americans wants to start her own business. Or, think of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: He says that people start businesses like Facebook not to make money, but just “because they like building things.” That’s McCloskey’s bourgeois outlook at work…

Read it all.

As Seen By The Right

January 17, 2011

Via TribLive

As Seen By The Left

January 17, 2011


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