May 20th, 2010

50th anniversary opinion

Here's Kristof at the NYT writing about the 50th anniversary of the Pill and how women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Congo Republic don't have consistent access to modern methods of contraception. The usual suspects are quoted (Guttmacher Institute). Kristof describes how "it’s easy to see firsthand how breakneck population growth is linked to poverty, instability and conflict." So, that's a problematic statement that tends to get made whenever white men see lots and lots of brown babies in a poor neighborhood. Let's move along. "Family planning has stalled since the 1980s." _That_ is flat out _untrue_, unless by family planning you mean the US government's official involvement. Which he probably does. Here's the link, if you dare:

I will confess: I've read some wonky books about population, demographics, family planning, contraception and blah, blah, bleeping, blah. It looks suspiciously like Kristof either hasn't, or he wasn't paying attention. Virtually everywhere, fertility has been dropping, in poor countries, in rich countries, in secular nations, in Islamic nations, in places with government support for parents, in places with no government support for families. Etc. Kristof cherry-picked his sample country (the Democratic Republic of Congo) and then casually implies it is a widespread problem -- when these days, it really isn't at all. It's a problem in a very small number of countries, almost all of which are in Africa.

The solutions he proposes aren't horrible (education for girls, easily available, multiple methods of contraception, and for the Obama administration to participate). But honestly? I don't like it when white men from wealthy countries go tell poor brown women they should have fewer babies. At a minimum, it should be women going and doing it, and I'd really rather see local activists being assisted and supported than tourists from the US dropping in for a few days and then going home to tell their little story of travel in a foreign land and oh gosh it's bad over there, isn't it.

And before he goes off on that ohmigosh population growth thing, it would be nice if he perused Fred Pearce's _The Coming Population Crash_. Which is a really pretty good book about population, demographics, family planning, contraception and blah, blah, bleeping, blah, even if at times it does seem as if he is summarizing Matthew Connelly's excellent _Fatal Misconception_. But I doubt even that would help, because Kristof read Connelly's book, and missed more or less the entire point -- what he got, he dismissed as being entirely in the past.

Kristof is disturbingly creepy. Technically, it would appear that we share some political views (women should have access to contraception and have political and economic power etc.). But in practice, he strikes me as just a different kind of colonizer.

B&N coverage at WSJ by Trachtenberg

The last time I mentioned Trachtenberg, it was to comment on how sucky the secondary coverage was of his basically accurate but not tremendously informative article on the amazon/penguin war (which as near as I can tell continues).

This article is mostly about B&N, their new CEO (hey, Steve is out! Wow! but they've got a Silicon Valley guy. This is not going to go well.), a possible proxy war in the future between Leonard and some guy named Burkle, and the possible future business model for B&N.

R. and I have been speculating for a while that chain bookstores will probably turn themselves into book/toy/gift shops -- since kids books (at least for the littles) aren't going to land on a kindle or iPad anytime soon (don't want the toddlers chewing on the expensive device), parents will go there, and they can buy other kid crap while they are there. Also, gifty things, which B&N already does, and can expand on arbitrarily. Look out Hallmark shops, basically, altho the comment about consumer electronics suggests they might have some damage planned for some of the big box guys as well.

It's a decent article. It's a little wacky to quote a guy from Penguin saying the iPad is taking digital books to a new level, given what else is going on, but that's a very minor quibble.

blogation on the penguin/amazon war

Try to ignore the subject/verb number mismatch -- it's a good analysis.

I'll be editing this repeatedly.

Not strictly speaking on the war:

But wacky. I agree with the blogger's point: the confusion is the salient takeaway from that discussion, and provides a lot of insight into the book industry. They're acting like idiots because they honestly cannot get past the book as a physical object. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, yet I am. Some days, I feel like there are no adults out there anymore, just older children. I suspect that this is only going to get worse over time.

There was also a moderately amusing blogger who pointed to a May 20 FT article in which a Penguin guy was saying how important it was to sell on as many platforms as possible to avoid piracy becoming entrenched. Because, funny? Right?

But a whole lot less commentary on this topic than I would have expected. Maybe I'm not searching for this stuff the right way.