Good Reads: Politics of withdrawal, fossil fuels, and media freedom in South Africa
Herewith, a shout out to longer-form analysis stories about President Obama's security pact with Afghanistan, as well as stories on oil, developing countries, and media restriction in South Africa.
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The Iraqi war? “Oil.” The NATO operation to support Libyan rebels against Qaddafi? “Oil.” What about the billions of dollars spent by the US government to prevent the spread of HIV in Africa? “That is just a program to distract the world from America’s main preoccupation, which is oil.”Skip to next paragraph
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A piece in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine suggests that America may have to wean itself from fossil fuels, if only out of pure selfish national interests. As the writer Amory B. Lovins writes, the US spends about $2 billion each day buying oil, and you add in other costs of transport and so on, the burden ends up being about one-sixth of the country’s gross domestic product. “Even if oil and coal prices were not high, volatile, and rising, risks such as fuel insecurity and dependence, pollution-caused illnesses, energy-driven conflicts over water and food, climate change, and geopolitical tensions would make oil and coal unattractive,” Mr. Lovins writes.
IQ and development
Racism and development work don’t usually get along. Those who want to make a difference in developing countries, helping poorer nations create vigorous economies, achieve self-sufficiency in food production, or build drinking water or public health systems, generally are not the types of people who believe in spurious theories of racial superiority.
The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for academics who write about development. Recently, a spate of articles argue that some countries are less developed than others because, well, because their citizens are stupid. Charles Kenny rebuts that in a Foreign Policy piece about these spurious academic studies, called "Dumb and Dumber." Mr. Kenny admits that IQ levels are higher in richer countries with better schooling systems, but then adds that as poorer countries get better nutrition and better educations, their IQ scores improve, something that scientists now call “the Flynn effect.”
The good news is that decolonization began a process of leveling the playing field, with rapidly climbing and converging indicators of health and education worldwide. Thanks to the Flynn effect, IQs are doubtless on a path of convergence as well, and the poisonous idiocy of genetic explanations for wealth and poverty will soon lose what little empirical support they might appear to have today.
Media freedom in South Africa
Finally, please read Nadine Gordimer’s fine piece in the New York Review of Books, about the troubling set of proposed laws that would sharply restrict press freedom in South Africa. Ms. Gordimer, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for literature, writes that she continues to support the African National Congress, but she opposes the proposed laws because they would essentially take South Africa back to the days of apartheid, when criticism was tantamount to treason.
For those who supported the freedom struggle in South Africa, the African National Congress’s rise to power in 1994 was an affirmation that truth and justice occasionally win out over racism and repression. But just 18 years later, Gordimer writes,“we now have the imminent threat of updated versions of the suppression of freedom of expression that gagged us under apartheid.”
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