Archive for September 2005
The October 2005 issue of The Globe and Mail monthly supplement, Report on Business, featured Geoffrey York’s article “Desert Storm,” which examines controversial mining magnate Robert Friedland‘s efforts to exploit the abundant mineral resources in the South Gobi region of Mongolia. This central Asian country’s economy has not recovered from the shock caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of Soviet aid, and the transition to a capitalist economy. One might naturally assume that Mongolians would welcome the development of their country’s mineral resources, with booming import markets in China next door and in South Korea and Japan just a bit further away. Unfortunately, a speech given by Friedland in Miami cast some doubt on his motives.
Friedland added that he was in “the final stages” of negotiating a long-term stability agreement with the Mongolian government to enshrine the tax privileges he’d sought. He boasted of the absence of local opposition in the Gobi. “People near your mining project are a real nightmare. …The nice thing about this, there’s no people around. …There’s no NGOs. … You’ve got lots of room for waste dumps without disrupting the population.”
And then he began talking of profits. His taxes in Mongolia, he suggested, might be “say, 5 or 6%.” He talked of the lucrative economics of block-caving (the technique he wants to use for Hugo North, one portion of the ore body at Oyu Tolgoi). He called the technique a “cash machine,” and he reached for another metaphor to explain the profits. “You’re making T-shirts for five bucks and selling them for $100,” he said. “That is a robust margin” (49-51).
As it happens, quite a few Mongolians–and not only the fifty thousand herders who live in the area of the mine–not only speak English, but they have Internet access. Most of York’s article focused upon how Friedland was trying to overcome his self-inflicted PR wounds.
The most unfortunate thing is that even if Friedland is crudely exploitative, Mongolians might not have any choice but to let him do his work. Paul Treanor, back in April 2001, presented a comparative study of Mongolia with the American states of Wyoming and Montana. The one high-altitude region in central Asia is a poor Third World territory populated by nomads; the other high-altitude region in central North America is a rich First World territory once populated by nomads. The secret of Wyoming/Montana? Its nomadic population was either exterminated or removed to reserves, and a First World population and economy highly dependent on external trade and subsidies imposed. Mongolia’s traditional herding culture simply can’t support hundreds of thousands of people at acceptable living standards. Sooner rather than later, Mongolia is going to deruralize and urbanize, losing vast chunks of its traditional culture.
Friedland might not be wrong about the South Gobi’s population in a generation’s time.
Watching episode 3.2 of Nip/Tuck tonight, I have to say that I half-approve the treatment meted out to one experimenting straight guys who decided to react badly and start beating his hapless partner. I’m not saying that people who react to their sexual confusion with pointless violence deserve to get beaten up by a mob of transsexual avengers. Well, not per se. There is a certain bit of cosmic justice at work, though.
Right now, the invaluable Migration Information website has a study from February 2004 examining the situation of illegal immigrants in Belgium. They have mixed motives for turning out–a desire for refugee, a desire to earn money–but, as the authors reasonably conclude, what could be no natural? Trying to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate entries into a given regime’s territory is, as always, difficult.
William Bennett‘s remarkable statement that the abortion of all black fetuses in the United States would reduce crime has caused him to quite deservedly take a lot of heat, within and without the United States. He has since defended himself by claiming that this statement was a simple thought experiment. Surely, he might have gone on to add, thoughts remain free?
I’m reminded of Ron Rosenbaum’s 1998 Explaining Hitler, an effort by Rosenbaum to explore the question of what made Hitler the man he was. Why did a failed Austrian artist of lower middle class origins go on to lead Greater Germany into a disastrous war and kill most of Europe’s Jews? One of his interview subjects argued that the Holocaust was made possible only by the fact that, as of 1942, Nazi Germany controlled almost every sizable Jewish population in Europe. Hitler only wanted, the interviewee suggested, from simply wanting to dominate and make miserable the Jews of Europe. When he realized that it was possible for him to make a clean sweep of European Jewry from the Atlantic almost to the Urals–organizationally, technologically, politically–Hitler changed his mind in a single moment of realization. “Might it be possible, Heinie?” That moment would have been impossible, though, without decades of anti-Semitic thinking behind him, without the for-granted assumption–shared by Hitler with far too many others–that of course things would be better for everyone if there were no Jews. If that assumption had ever been truly and critically critically debated, in Wilhelmine or Weimar Germany, I wonder if Hitler could ever have done what he did.
As it turns out, the source of Bennett’s argument, Freakonomics author Steve Levitt disavows Bennett’s argument. “As an aside, it has been both fascinating and disturbing to me how the media have insisted on reporting this as a study about race, when race really is not an integral part of the story. The link between abortion and unwantedness, and also between unwantedness and later criminality, have been shown most clearly in Scandinavian data. Abortion rates among African-Americans are higher, but overall, far more abortions are done by whites. None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable.” Anyone familiar with (North) American definitions of race should know that. Bennett, it seems, doesn’t, or perhaps doesn’t care to. His thoughts come from him, true, but now that he has shared them with us all we may as well set to debating them for after all, they’re public-domain and one day in the not-too-distant future Bennett’s plan might even be practical.
While chatting with a co-worker about the novels of Michel Houellebecq and that writer’s profoundly skeptical take on the human condition, we decided that the whole concept of romantic love has been steadily whittled away, at least ever since 1856 when Gustave Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary came out. The idea of love as something transcendental and eternal, something capable of enduring in a materialistic society, has since been in decay.
I wonder if we–or, at least we materialistic First and Second Worlders–have outgrown love. Considering the admittedly small and perhaps unrepresentative world of Anglophone popular music, the most recent love song that I can think of is U2’s 1987 “With or Without You”. Most other love songs tend to run along the lines of Shakespears Sister’s “Stay”, where the narrator fears the loss of her beloved not for the beloved’s sake, or for the future of love, but rather because of what the end of love will do to her. Björk‘s “Army of Me” is arguably a love song even more unsympathetic to the potentially departing partner. Even “With or Without You” spends much time on the suffering of the narrator faced with the threat of lost love.
Love isn’t so much transcendental and eternal in popular music as it is situational and temporary, it seems. Perhaps it always has been and we’ve only gotten around now to noticing it. Or am I wrong? Tell me, because I’m still a bit of a soppy romantic at heart. (Then again, Houellebecq does write well, or at least interestingly.)
Scotland was the inspiration for romantic movements throughout Europe and North America in the late eighteenth century. The various national strains of romanticism chose among the corpus of material provided by James McPherson and his successors, adapting what seemed most suitable to their purposes. For the American colonies and the young United States, Scotland served above all as a political and cultural role model. Scotland was the land of perpetual rebellion against England, a nation that defended itself valiantly against its mighty neighbor, forever coming out on the losing end and yet always demonstrating its virtue, its dignity, its moral strength, and its character. Scotland was the model of an anti-England that young America could emulate in its struggle to form itself into an independent nation. True to the dictum that nothing unites like a common enemy, Scotland’s “protest history” and the idea of “greedy England?Egypt holding Israel/Scotland in bondage” were embraced across the Atlantic as a national cause (48-49).
As Schivelbusch goes on to note, the heavily Scottish character of white immigration to the South went on to define the nascent Southern identity, complete with the emphasis on defeat. Scotland was the South’s role model.