Archive for September, 2008


There was a pretty good article about Pakistan in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. It was mostly about the relationship between the Pakistani government and the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwestern province. It didn’t say anything terribly new, but I found it helpful to see everything laid out.

I’ve never been to Pakistan, but from what I’ve read it seems to be a perfectly pleasant place in the main cities. But Pakistan has a strong interest in keeping Afghanistan weak, and has always been the primary supporter of the Taliban. Although Musharraf signed up to support the U.S. after 9/11—supposedly Richard Holbrooke more-or-less told him to support the U.S. in Afghanistan or he would be next—his policy all along has been to do the minimum required to keep U.S. support. That U.S. support didn’t save him in the end, and it hurt the U.S. image to be seen supporting a near-dictator. So far the new leadership appears to be just as ready to take lots of U.S. dollars for doing as little as possible.

At the time of the invasion of Iraq I remember thinking that we were invading a country for which we had very weak evidence of nuclear weapons development, while ignoring the one three countries over with demonstrated nuclear capability and a long history of belligerence and working against U.S. interests. Since then we have learned a lot more about how A.Q. Khan sold Pakistan’s nuclear secrets to U.S. enemies. The Pakistani government has never bothered to actually punish him for doing so, despite promises made to the U.S.; this is not surprising considering he is a national hero for developing the Pakistani bomb.

Not that I think we should invade Pakistan, of course—that would be nuts. But the U.S. should definitely stop giving money and military support to a government which is quite likely to use them in ways we don’t like. The U.S. should focus on funding different efforts within Pakistan, such as setting up schools to compete with the Saudi-funded madrassas, and working to improve literacy and women’s rights. Those are steps which might over time defuse some of the tension and make Pakistan a more normal and friendly country. Military support pushes them in quite a different direction.

Comments (2)

Web Advertising

Display ads on the web seem to be in something of an arms race (display ads are like the ones on the right side of this post; they are not the same as search ads, which you see when you do a web search). People browsing the web get better and better at ignoring display ads. The ads get more and more intrusive. Browsers give you more options to block them.

There are only two ways that an advertising arms race can end: no ads or no viewers. You can’t force people to pay attention. If the ads get too annoying, they will stop looking at your web site at all.

As the moment the major revenue source for many web sites is display ads. For most web sites, nothing else has worked. As display ads become less effective, it is likely that web site revenue will start going down. This is hardly a major disaster, but people do get some small benefit from the web sites they visit. Unfortunately it’s proven to be difficult to turn that small benefit into money. For those web sites which depend on a revenue stream, is there any way to keep them alive if advertising stops working?

(This certainly doesn’t imply the end of the web. Many useful web sites are created with no revenue source at all. Even the worst case scenario is just the end of a small part of the web.)

As far as I know making money by advertising is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to around 1900 or so. I expect that there are other ways to capture value as a revenue source. I just don’t know what they are.


Fannie and Freddie

The U.S. government takes over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The old CEOs are forced out. Of course, they took home multiple millions of dollars over the last few years, while they were engaging in risky behaviour which led to the government bailout. Are they going to have to give it back? Stay tuned. So far it looks like yet another example of privatizing profits and socializing losses.

In this case the shareholders were deliberately cut out, which I’m OK with. However, it serves as another example of how U.S. capitalism is not based on value to shareholders. It’s based on value to management, particularly to executives.

Comments (1)

3D Birds

My laptop’s disk crashed while I was away. I’ve reformatted the disk, reinstalled an old OS I had actual CDs for, restored my files from backup, and ordered a new laptop. What a pain.

I was enjoying watching birds flying. I’m not a bird-watcher at all, and all I know about these is that they were LGB birds (a useful abbreviation for Little Grey Bird, or in other words the birds I mostly see, other than pigeons). It’s not an original thought, but birds live in an impressively three-dimensional space. We think we live in a 3D world, but really we mostly live on a deformed 2D surface. If a bird wants to get somewhere across the valley, it goes straight there. We trudge down and up.

Fish have this ability to an even greater degree. It’s kind of a shame that there are no airfish. One can easily imagine a balloon like animal which would drift around in the air, moving itself up via electrolysis to produce hydrogen and down by converting the hydrogen back into water. Fish swim by waving their fins but an airfish would need much larger fins, basically wings. The airfish would have few natural predators and could get pretty large. They would have to steer clear of thunderstorms. I’m not sure what they would eat.

I wonder how long it will be before genetic engineers can design entirely new animals?

Comments (1)

« Previous Page « Previous Page Next entries »