Oil on troubled waters

by Maria on April 29, 2008

Riddle me this; how, in a world of competition and trade rules, does OPEC exist? I’ve been asking this question for years, and never gotten a proper answer. My faith in free trade may be shaken.

It reminds me of how, as a teenager, I spent several years asking catechism teachers ‘if I am forgiven my sins in confession, then what is there to talk about on judgment day?’. Result; I’m a practicing Catholic who hasn’t been to confession since I was 17.

But seriously, do WTO rules bend the space-time continuum to let OPEC members continue their cartel-building, export-controlling ways? How is OPEC accommodated in the world of sort-of free trade? I’m not looking for the realpolitik answer. That’s pretty obvious. But what is the legal and institutional answer to this question?

Yesterday, Algeria’s energy minister and current OPEC president said oil may hit $200 a barrel and there’s little OPEC can do about it. As if oil prices are as immutable as the weather. He went on to say increasing output wouldn’t lower prices currently high prices because these are the result of the weak dollar and global instability. Which is some equally bizarre reasoning. Even if you accept situation X is caused by variables Y and Z, doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed by adjusting some other variable. (Whether or not there is a duty of those in control of that variable to adjust it is another question – though the assertion that Saudi Arabia has cut production by 2 million barrels a day in the last 3 years undercuts OPEC’s disinterest claim.)

What’s going on at the level in between OPEC’s realpolitik and disingenuous P.R. claims? Is there such a level of legal or institutional discourse with other countries or institutions? I feel there’s a stratum of interaction missing in the way OPEC is reported on in the news. In the middle bit between its externally focused bully power and its self-serving rhetoric, are there rules that constrain OPEC in its outside relations? (Clearly, internal struggles between producers generate their own constraints and coordination problems – I’m thinking of Robert Bates‘ fascinating work on coffee producers.) How does OPEC get along…?

More Kindle & etc.

by John Holbo on April 29, 2008

I got a new mac recently – oh joy! – and happened to notice this bit of the set-up instructions.

If you don’t intend to keep or use your other Mac, it’s best to deauthorize it from playing music, videos, or audiobooks that you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store. Deauthorizing a computer prevents any songs, videos, or audiobooks you’ve purchased from being played by someone else and frees up another authorization for use.

Because listening to someone else’s songs is like using someone else’s toothbrush, the Lord knows. Don’t get me started about lending books. The book mobile would roll through town, just as during the crusades the rotting, infected heads of the dead were lobbed over the walls of besieged towns, to dismay and disease the defenders …

I think someone told this story before:

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

Which reminds me of this screed against Amazon’s Kindle, the Future of Reading (a Play in Six Acts).

Speaking of which: the Kindle is now available for immediate shipping. They’ve sorted out their supply issues and are going great guns. They are also commencing engagement in what sounds like grossly uncompetitive behavior in the POD market, preparing to force small publishers to use their very ill-regarded BookSurge service. That’s just terrible. [click to continue…]

Terminating Parental Rights

by Harry on April 29, 2008

The FLDS incident has stirred up plenty of discussion in the blogosphere. Laura got so annoyed in her first thread that she, sensibly, shut it down, and then, equally sensibly, opened up a more general thread about when the government is justified in terminating parental rights. (See also Russell, here and here). I am uneasy about commenting much on the FDLS issue, mainly because I have not been following it as obssessively as I’d have needed to to feel comfortable. But I do have some observations about parental rights. These are partly drawn from my paper with Adam Swift, Parents’ Rights and the Value of the Family (pdf, but free, and no registration required, at least as of now), so in what follows the usual Brighouse/Swift rule for anything I say that draws on our work — whatever you agree with credit him, whatever you disagree with blame me — applies (for the final, published, paper, we get joint credit/blame).

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Videoseminar: report from the bleeding edge

by John Quiggin on April 29, 2008

I presented a videoseminar today, presenting a new argument against discounting the utility of future (more precisely later-born) generations, and I thought I’d report on both medium and message.

It was a bit of a bleeding edge experience, though it worked OK in the end. The big problem was presenting slides at the same time as video of me talking. ANU was expecting a hardware solution (dual video) while UQ was expecting a software solution (NetMeeting or Bridgit). Fortunately, I had sent the presentation ahead of time, so someone at the ANU end was able to run it for me. But I’ll have to develop a standard procedure for this.

I’ve attached the presentation (in PDF format)here

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