This page is from the original Don't Let Me Stop You blog. We have moved to a new site: Visit DLMSY on WordPress.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Blogging As Public Service

A lot of people operate under the assumption that blogs are largely the product of cranks without much of a social life, or that blogs don't offer much in the way of insight or public good. Others think that blogs are a revolution in how people read and distribute information and informed commentary.

But no matter which camp you fall into, you have to hand it to the Rapid City Journal in my home state of South Dakota. For a newspaper, they definitely understand how this whole blogging thing can (and should) operate. The Journal's latest venture is a blog detailing the efforts to fight the Ricco wildfire north of Rapid City. It's a treasure trove of information on the fire, and features lots of photos and updates. In short, the blog performed a very useful public service. (The fire is mostly contained at this point, but as Bill Harlan points out in this post, any future fire will also be blogged. Cool!)

Also of note is the Journal's Mt. Blogmore, a fun and free spirited endeavor that thrived in large part due to reader feedback due to each post being open to comments. During the 2004 Daschle-Thune race for example, Mt. Blogmore was a great place to hang out.

Now, it should be obvious to anyone why blogs can complement newspapers: the news never stops, and neither do people looking for news. For those reasons alone I don't understand why more newspapers don't utilize the blog model to deliver timely news to their readers, and to allow those readers to comment and discuss the news. (Anyone at the Omaha World-Herald or Lincoln Journal Star listening to this?)

Blogs are also quite useful when they're at their most playful, as anyone who reads Mt. Blogmore can tell you. And what would be wrong with a newspaper engaging in a bit of fun with its readers?

As the Rapid City Journal has shown, you don't have to be a gigantic metro daily with millions of readers to get in the game. Simply put, if you build it and run it right, people will come. It's obvious that any smaller daily or weekly newspaper could complement their news distribution with blogging as well.

No matter how you slice it, I still find it odd that in the year 2005 more papers haven't supplemented their online presence with blogs.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Driving in France

Another one from the road:

France is a beautiful country, and there is much more to be seen beyond Paris. Driving in France is also an experience in itself, although not one for the faint of heart. For one thing, essentially all the French drivers are lunatics behind the wheel. This is widely acknowledged by the French themselves, although none of them see their own driving as bad; it's everyone else that causes the problem. Truth be told, high speed tailgating and thread-the-needle lane changes are practically the national sport. Merging as a lane closes is often marked by half a dozen cars deciding they must merge in front of you at 85 mph after their lane ends.

French cars tend to be quite small by American standards. Certainly the price of gasoline is part of the reason for this. It is currently around $6/gal, and it has been double or triple the US price since I began coming here in 1982. Pumping $60 or $70 worth of gas into a small car is bad enough, but imagine filling the tank of a Hummer or even a big SUV.

Another reason for choosing a small car in France is that the entire transportation system is geared towards small cars. One may find oneself on what appears to be a comfortable single lane road, but that is strictly an illusion. In fact that "single lane" road is expected to bear traffic in both directions and parking. Buildings in older areas of the cities and towns are often just a curb's width from the road. Traffic lanes and parking spaces all assume cars of subcompact size. So just give in and rent the smallest car that will hold your passengers.

For highway travel between the cities the French Interstate ("Autoroute") system is by far the fastest. The standard speed limit for cars is 130 km/hr (81 mph), but based on driver behavior this seems to be just a suggestion, much like the 55 mph speed limit around major US cities. The rule is keep to the right except when passing, and it's clear that one cannot drive very far in the left lane at 130 without making the people behind quite irate. Additional complexity is added by the separate, lower speed limit for trucks: 90 km/hr (56 mph). Consequently, anyone in a car who wishes to follow the actual speed limit must constantly switch between lanes at different, high speeds. Just imagine a two lane Interstate with many vehicles in the right lane restricted to 55 mph and the left lane full of agressive drivers in cars traveling 80 mph or faster. Apparently the idea is that it is unsafe to allow trucks to travel at 130 km/hr, but it could hardly be any less safe than the current practice.

The national and departmental roads are an alternative to the autoroutes, if you have plenty of time. The speed limits on these are normally 90 km/hr between towns and 50 km/hr inside. This is a great way to discover la France profonde in a way that you just can't do from the autoroutes. There are also pretty stiff tolls on the autoroutes, except right around the major cities, so the savings can be substantial. For a trip from (roughly) Bordeaux to Montpelier (300 miles) the round trip toll was 70 euro. The tradeoff is the trip will take a lot longer, up to twice as long.

Technorati: ,

Nebraska In The Blogosphere

Minnesotan Matt is blogging about one of my biggest pet peeves: the National Education Association.

Matt runs a good blog, so make sure you visit often.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

French Reactions to London Bombing

Friday, July 8
We don't pretend to speak for the French, but this action obviously didn't win any friends for al-Qaeda or other Islamists in France. Commentators on the news sought quickly to dispell any illusions that France was somehow immune from the same sort of terrorist attacks. The French government raised the alert level ("Vigipirate") to red.

The regional newspaper, Sud Ouest, is headquartered in Bordeaux and is fairly representative of mainstream French media. Today it has an editorial cartoon with a shadowy, Islamist figure with his hands on a detonator plunger. Behind him a shadowy Hitler says, "Bombs on London... My poor friend, you really don't know the British at all."

In an editorial entitled "Blood and Tears in London" Sud Ouest doesn't hesitate to use the term "terrorists." Sud Ouest says [my translation]:
"If they counted on driving a wedge between the great Western nations it has failed. Responding to the shocking images of terror in London, were those of George Bush and Jacques Chirac flanking Tony Blair to state their refusal of any compromise, any weakness, in the struggle against terrorism. Facing unspeakable evil, facing the greatest menace weighing on the world and the West today, these leaders know to put their differences aside and stand shoulder to shoulder. One can only wish them well."
Sud Ouest also rejects any justification of the attacks based on Iraq, although it does say that the war "has transformed that country into a new haven for terrorism." I guess we have to expect that kind of view, too. They are French, after all.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Farm Subsidies In 2006, Farm Subsidies In 2008, Farm Subsidies Forever

Genial co-guest blogger Steve wondered yesterday what the local implications would be if the Bush administration took steps to discontinue farm subsidies.

My answer? I really haven't a clue. I'm not much of an ag economist, nor do I have a lot of experience with the ag economy in general (despite where I live and where I grew up). So in some part, I've got to plead a degree of ignorance on the subject.

But Steve's post got me to thinking how big of an issue farm subsidies could become in both state and federal politics, especially considering that 2006 and 2008 are just around the corner.

Here's Ag Secretary (and former Nebraska governor) Mike Johanns, quoted in an AgNet story appearing on the Wisconsin Ag Connection website:

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who departs for Beijing this weekend, said the administration sent a strong signal this week by asking Congress to kill a cotton subsidy program that was ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization.

"We have been saying all along we're very anxious to get a reform-oriented WTO round," Johanns told reporters Wednesday. "We believe that our farmers and ranchers can compete with anybody in the world."

Farm subsidies are critical in the WTO talks. Developing nations want subsidies cut in wealthy countries to allow competition from farmers in poor countries.

President Bush, attending a summit with leaders of other wealthy nations, said Europe and the U.S. should agree jointly to abolish subsidies through current WTO negotiations.

"For us, the president's challenge is right on target," Johanns said. "Let's move together, and let's eliminate subsidies. We're ready to do that."

China purchased $1.7 billion dollars worth of US cotton in 2004, as the story says. One really wonders what possible argument there could be in favor of US export subsidies on that particular ag crop.

Meanwhile, as Steve also pointed out, there was a lot of tough talk against export subsidies at the G8 summit.

G8 leaders pledged Friday to end farm export aid and called for renewed efforts to conclude a new phase of world trade liberalization under the so-called Doha Round of negotiations by the end of next year.

The commitment on farm export subsidies, something demanded by African states and others, was made in a communique issued at a Group of Eight summit at the Gleneagles hotel in Scotland.

But it set no specific deadline.

"In agriculture we are committed to substantially reducing trade-distorting domestic support and substantially improving market access," the statement said.

"We are also committed to eliminating all forms of export subsidies and establishing disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect by a credible end date."

On the Doha round of negotiations among member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the communique said:

"We call on all WTO members to work with greater urgency to bring these negotiations to a conclusion by the end of 2006."

First off, judging by the amount of ag crops and goods the US exports, there's really no reason to keep some sort of "agri-shield" in place. These sorts of things aren't beneficial to third-world countries trying to gain stable footing in global markets. (The best way to start a fresh or feed a growing democracy? Access to free markets and free trade, IMHO.) The elimination of the ag export subsidies is also something that's been in the pipe for a while now.

Will the state and federal ag lobby like this? I frankly have no idea, and that's why I wish I were more of an expert on the ag market. Perhaps the question of how the small ag producers (the "family farm," if you will) will fare when subsidies are discontinued is better left to readers with more insight and better knowledge than I possess.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Farm Subsidies

Abe and Ryne have much firmer grasps on the local politics of the midwest than I do (while I am also a midwesterner, Chicago is a much different beast indeed). I'm looking for their (and anyone else's) input on this one- what would be the local implications if President Bush seriously pursued a discontinuation of farm subsidies, as has been indicated he might?