The European Union

2008 01 26
System compatibility, writ large

The NYT had a little blip today about the new freight train service between China and Germany. It’s interesting in itself, and especially so because apparently Russia and Mongolia’s national railroads use a different gauge than the national railroads of China, Germany, Poland and whatever other country the route passes through. So a single train can’t make the journey. They have to unload the freight and re-load it, to transfer between trains that run on the relevant gauges. I love this for reasons I’m having a hard time articulating fully. Giant systems, huge investments of resources and labor and time for their respective countries, where the decisions about the basic specs have huge ramifications, and it would be just a nightmare to fix.

But here’s where the NYT story surpasses itself into infrastructure geek sublimity. Because a similar problem of incompatible gauges has cropped up at other times in history, and the article links to the amazing example of the US southern railroads, which in 1886 converted almost 12,000 miles of track (and all their working trains too) to a different gauge in two days.

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2004 08 12
Europe on Sudan

I’ve said this before, but saying something n number of times has never prevented me from saying it for the n +1th time: For the most part, Europe’s collective foreign policy seems sluggish, timid, and unimaginative. I appreciate the efforts to defuse the current nuclear program row with Iran, along with other sundry initiatives. But on matters like Sudan, I don’t see much to admire.

The recent news that the E.U. has punted on the question of whether there is or is not a genocide going on in Sudan on this only confirms this impression. They are not saying, mind you, that there isn’t a genocide. They are punting. Again. This level of cowardice is unseemly in what ought to be a nice counterweight to American global dominance.

Look, I’m aware that this is actually a very complicated situation and that some of the measures currently being urged might end up being counterproductive. (I found out recently to my disappointment that, thanks mainly to Russia, Sudan has a discouragingly modern military.) And I do not even know enough about the situation to say definitively that it is a genocide. But it sure looks like one from where I sit, reading the news and feeling very safe and sound in Brooklyn. And so I hope I can be forgiven for saying that instead of calling a spade a spade, the E.U. seems much more inclined to say: “That there spade-like implement you see is not so much a spade as an instrument which might or might not be suited for such work as is conventionally called spading owing to the fact that it has a spade-like shape and might (or might not!) have been designed with spading in mind.”

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 06 11
Europe and Iran

Human Rights Watch urges Europe to get tough on Iran:
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2004 04 21
Uzbekistan and the Open Society Institute

Via Oxblog, I see that the Uzbekistan government has decided to give the Open Society Institute the boot. This is really terrible news, since the Open Society Institute obviously did good work attempting to build civil society in the country.
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