Tag Archives: usa

What I think about Wikileaks

The whole Cablegate affair from Wikileaks is highly entertaining but it also warrants some real thought. It’s more complex than just delighting in the embarrassment of the US government.

I recently read an excellent blog post on the topic which helped to firm up my opinions on the matter.

1. Secrecy vs. Transparency – We need a balance

Complete secrecy is fairly obviously something that we need to avoid in a democratic state. Without some transparency we get an unchecked government (and businesses) that can act as it pleases. Transparency is important.

But, complete transparency is also something to be avoided. Private speech is a necessary component of democracy. People need to be able to negotiate, to change their minds, and to keep some secrets.

What is needed is a suitable balance between secrecy and transparency. Democracy is full of such balancing acts.

2. Wikileaks is a necessary shock

In the short term I believe that Wikileaks is a good thing:

  • Wikileaks pushes the secrecy vs. transparency balance towards transparency. I believe this was necessary.
  • Wikileaks is the shock to the system that should pull us into a new world. Democracy must react.

In the long term however an unchecked Wikileaks would be a bad thing. Wikileaks currently represents pure transparency without any checks and balances. Democracy and law must catch up.

3. The US is reacting shockingly

I am horrified by the reaction of the US government to Wikileaks. This is not what I would expect from the government of a freedom loving democracy.

Two quotes from the original post neatly capture my thoughts on the US government’s reaction.

When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.

The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”


  • Democracy needs a balance between secrecy and transparency.
  • Wikileaks helps move us toward transparency.
  • But pure transparency as represented by Wikileaks should be controlled by laws.
  • The US government has reacted innapropriately to Wikileaks.

Economist analysis of the Obama innauguration speech

There are many analyses of Obama’s inauguration speech out there. Predictably, I like the one from The Economist. You can read the transcript of the speech here.

On the tone of the speech:

  • The speech was sobering rather than celebratory or inspirational
  • “By choosing to talk of hardships and sacrifice, the new president has begun the work of preparing voters for prolonged economic malaise, among other difficulties”
  • The tone of the speech also made sense politically: “it was shrewd to emphasise just how dreadful a mess he is inheriting from his predecessor”

On the environment and energy:

  • He stated the need to make use of renewable/cleaner energy sources
  • He wants to restore science to its rightful place

On foreign policy:

  • He rejected the false choice between safety and democratic ideals. In other words no more torture and dodgy “Bush” business in the name of national security
  • He reached out to the Muslim world: “we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Feral hogs: not cute

The Economist has an interesting article on feral hogs in the states. Apparently there are between 4 and 5 million formerly domestic pigs living wild in the States.

They are brutal, fertile, adaptable and intelligent so they spread quickly and leave a wake of destruction. Some get truly enormous – you may have heard of Hogzilla, a monumental individual weighing several hundred kilograms (pictured).

The problem started when the Spanish conquistadors released some of their herds while traveling across the Americas.

Since then problem has become so severe that many States have a shoot on site policy. Other States encourage trapping, poisoning specially trained “Hog dogs” and even hunting from helicopters!

Jimmy Carter vs Swamp Rabbit

XKCD is a superb webcomic (although pretty geeky) that I follow religiously. I recently came across this one which I found funny.

Awesome XKCD cartoon

I thought it was pretty random so I Googled the incident and it turns out that Jimmy Carter was indeed ‘attacked’ by a swimming swamp rabbit in 1979! Read about it in the Wikipedia article: Jimmy Carter Rabbit Incident. There are also links to more detail.

Jimmy Carter stares at the crazed swamp rabbit that he had just fought off

Jimmy Carter stares at the crazed swamp rabbit that he had just fought off. Carter was out fishing alone when the swamp rabbit swam towards him and tried desperately to enter the boat. Mr President was forced to fend it off with an oar. Not sure that I believe this – but it does seem to be legit…

Obama is about promise McCain about Country

Wired has this interesting article showing word clouds of the different speeches at the recent Democratic and Republican conventions. Basically words used most often are largest in word clouds – they make an interesting way of seeing what was spoken about. For instance this is a word cloud for Michelle Obama’s speech about her husband. Predictably the word ‘Barack’ is most common but the words ‘work’, ‘people’ and ‘like’ are common too.

Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic conventionMichelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention

Check out the article for the other word clouds, below I have listed the speakers and their most common words. Pretty interesting.

  • Hillary Clinton: America, going, Obama
  • Joe Biden: Barack, Obama, change, John
  • Barack Obama: promise, America, McCain
  • John McCain: country, Americans, fight
  • George W. Bush: John
  • Sarah Palin: America, country, McCain

Americans shouldn’t worry much about the rise of China

Sad americaAccording to this article from The Economist Americans are apparently unhappy with the state of their country in general. According to the article 80% of Americans think the country is going the wrong way.

The article lists several reasons that the national mood is low – the war on terror and the economy are the major categories. The rising China also seems to be freaking the Americans out pretty badly – let’s see how they react when China wins more medals in the Olympics.

America has gotten into sullen moods before and recovered. But:
“Still, countries, like people, behave dangerously when their mood turns dark. If America fails to distinguish between what it needs to change and what it needs to accept, it risks hurting not just allies and trading partners, but also itself.”

There are things that do need to be changed. For instance: education, health, the war on terror and Guantánamo Bay. However, it is an attitude adjustment that is required when it comes to the rise of Asia and China.

There are two reasons not to worry about the rise of China:

  1. “Even at its present growth rate, China’s GDP will take a quarter of a century to catch up with America’s; and the internal tensions that China’s rapidly changing economy has caused may well lead it to stumble before then”
  2. “Even if Asia’s rise continues unabated, it is wrong-and profoundly un-American-to regard this as a problem. Economic growth, like trade, is not a zero-sum game. The faster China and India grow, the more American goods they buy”

I like the last paragraph:
“Everybody goes through bad times. Some learn from the problems they have caused themselves, and come back stronger. Some blame others, lash out and damage themselves further. America has had the wisdom to take the first course many times before. Let’s hope it does so again.”

The Economist on the stupid American skilled immigration policy

The Economist has an article about how those silly Americans are shooting themselves in the foot by preventing talented immigrants from getting in. This is something that I have personally encountered and I have to agree with The Economist – it’s pretty dumb.

America is in the enviable position of being the goal destination for thousands of the world’s most talented people. That is a position that other countries would love to be in. Indeed America’s restrictive laws and the efforts of Europe, Canada, and Australia are starting to suck talent and companies out of America.

Each year only 85,000 H1B visas for highly skilled and company sponsored immigrants are allowed. This is so far below the demand that they are all gone on the first day. Remember that these are people who would really add to the American economy:

  • Almost 25% of American Nobel prize winners are immigrants
  • Great American companies like Google and Intel had immigrants among their founders
  • 40% of America’s science and engineering PhDs go to immigrants
  • Bill Gates (and several economists) have calculated that on average each foreigner who receives an H1B visa creates jobs for 5 Americans

So why do American politicians shoot their country in the foot like this? Because those politicians are elected by a largely ignorant and isolationist public. These guys think that allowing some of the most talented and skilled workers to add to their economy is a bad idea.