April 30, 2003

So complicated as to defy concise explanation   {Comments: 0}

Brent Snowcroft and Arnold Kantor have an editorial in tomorrow's NYT calling the Beijing talks between the US and the DPRK a surprising success. But on balance, they don't seem to be particularly optimistic. Fundamentally their plan is about trading disarmament for a security guarantee - something the US has so far been unwilling to do:

United States objectives likewise remain the same. We will not pay blackmail, and we will not buy the same horse twice. But we do want to stop North Korea from being a threat to peace and security in northeastern Asia and a supplier of weapons of mass destruction elsewhere. To realize these goals, we must dismantle the North Korean nuclear and missile programs in a way that is realistically irreversible and verifiable.

In return, we should be willing to join with others in providing credible assurances to North Korea that it need have no concern about its own security, so long as it does not threaten others. We should also make clear that we would be prepared to take a leading role in ending North Korea's political and economic isolation. Such a proposal would be a deal about a whole new horse, going far beyond the 1994 Agreed Framework.

This all sounds good, but how how is the US going to provide credible security assurances to North Korea after the invasion of Iraq and Donald Rumsfeld's rhetoric about the vindication of preemption as a military strategy? And, given the latter, is this really something the United States is willing to offer? I find it interesting that they haven't even released the details of the "considerable" demands in the latest North Korean offer (which has been rejected).

The North Koreans are increasingly looking like the reasonable party in ths dispute. Their demand - a guarantee that the United States won't attack them - is understandable given US policy in the past year or so. And it's pretty clear where this is all going to go eventually. As Fareed Zakaria points out, "We all know the solution is the Clinton solution. There's a light at the end of the tunnel; there's just no tunnel. Nothing's going to happen until the U.S. presses the issue."

By the way, Brent Snowcroft definitely does not speak for the Bush administration - in fact, I'm tempted to read this editorial as a way of patching up the dmaage done by Snowcroft's criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Does calling the meetings with North Korea a surprising success have something to do with the Bush family's paranoid obsession with loyalty? Or is it just a different rhetorical tack?

Wired and well-spoken   {Comments: 0}

Here's more on Fareed Zakaria. The link comes via Gary Farber, who I'm glad to say is back to posting regularly - although it may have something to do with a SARS-like bout of pneumonia. Hope he gets well soon.

Wooden nickels   {Comments: 0}

What's with all the changes at the US Mint in the past few years? I guess the new bills addressed security issues, but there's also this business of making nickels into collectors items:

Latest figures show nickel circulation at 18.9 billion. The Mint said it would increase production if the public began collecting the new nickels in large numbers.
So, if large numbers of nickels go out of circulation, where does their value go? Back to the US Mint? It's quite a trick to increase the money supply without causing inflation.

I don't know how successful the nickels will be, but a lot of people seem to be collecting the state quarters. If one in twenty Americans (and anecdotally this seems like a conservative estimate) collects a complete set of 50 state quarters, that's $12.50 x 13 million = $162.5 million... not a bad budget supplement for the US Mint!

April 28, 2003

The mutinous winds   {Comments: 0}

Thanks, Haggai, for directing me to Gary Hart's review of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom. I definitely need to get myself a copy of this book. A couple of comments. Hart concludes:

Zakaria is a serious enough thinker and has produced a serious enough book to require serious attention. Either one-dimensional "democracy" or a more nuanced constitutional liberalism with institutional instruments underwriting individual liberty are the choices he offers for the 21st century. He sees no alternatives, though a lively debate stimulated by his book might produce some.
I'm in no position to dispute this, since I haven't read Zakaria's book, but I find it interesting that this was not the same kind of choice offered by Vladimir Popov, about whom I posted a couple weeks back. Popov's research was very clear: yes, transitioning countries with democractic governments and strong civil and property rights fare better than those with only democratic govermnents; but the countries which fared best of all were those without any political reforms - countries such Belarus, Uzbekistan, and China which are undemocratic but have moved decicively to create civil and property rights.

Faced with this data, a third alternative would be for a kind of phased transition that would leave democratic (ie political) reforms for later, pushing for civil and property rights instead to help stimulate economic growth. I'm not necessarily arguing for this, but it certainly merits consideration.

MORE: PG responds (in comments) that Iraq is different from China because of its oil. But Russia, the country with the richest endowment of natural resources in the world, has been a spectacular failure. Yes, there are differences between Iraq and Russia as well (I should also point out that Popov's research dealt only with countries transitioning from command to market economies), but the lack of clearly defined property rights in Russia has been disastrous, and there's no reason to think it work any better in Iraq. Property and civil rights are absolutely central to the functioning of a market economy, while political rights are not.

Why is it important to grow Iraq's economy? The whole neocon plan was to knock over the government in Baghdad and put in a democracy that would demonstrate the power of "our way of life" to nearby regimes. The neocons have always seen Iraq as the perfect candidate for this - the country sits on massive oil reserves and already has a forward-looking view of women and a highly educated populace. But new political rights aren't going to write an Iraqi success story by themselves. Economic growth is the only way to change people's everyday lives for the better, whether we're talking about Iraq or the rest of the Middle East.

And refuse thy name   {Comments: 0}

There's been a lot of discussion about anonymous blogging lately - The Invisible Adjunct and Amitai Etzioni's posts come to mind - and I've been doing some thinking about it as a result.

When I started this blog (almost 3 months ago!), I knew I didn't want it to be anonymous. It didn't have anything to do with the communiatrian concerns voiced by Amitai Etizoni, or with any other strongly held beliefs about how one should blog. For some reason, committing intellectually to the words and ideas I write is tremendously difficult for me, and I knew that for this to be a valuable experience, I'd have to focre myself to do that. (By the way, the problem is even more pronounced when it's about artistic responsibility - as the premiere of this opera nears, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I won't be able to change things anymore.)

In the case of this blog, there's definitely been some hedging. I didn't tell (and in some cases, still haven't told) many of my friends and acquaintances, because I didn't want to have to deal with being able to imagine particular readers and wondering how my posts would play with them. Also, the name change was kind of a fiasco (just how did I end up with a name I hate?), and I seem to have made it worse by adding the subtitle at the top. But after only three months my comfort level has increased by a couple orders of magnitude.

Of course, I sympathize with others' reasons for writing anonymously. Just this weekend I had a sort of big brawl with my dad over race issues, and the topic has completely dominated my thoughts since then. But I feel uncomfortable writing about it here because people we both know will be reading, and some of the implications are pretty personal and specific. I may end up writing about it later, but if I do, it will be in a crystallized form, without the richness and warmth that the details would bring with them...

April 27, 2003

Substantial noninfringing uses   {Comments: 0}

Obviously this has huge implications for the future of art. I haven't thought about it much, but my gut reaction is to applaud anything that will help rescue the human creative impulse out of the clutches of corporate greed and American consumerism. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much of what I consider art really has corporate handlers anyway. Maybe this will help level the playing field and open things up?

A sexy alternative to nuclear annihilation   {Comments: 0}

Bruce Sterling discusses some of the motivations behind the Indian and Chinese space programs.

Oh, what a feeling   {Comments: 115}

Yes, the new Toyota Prius gets 55 miles per gallon, but there's this too:

New hybrid technology will enable the 2004 Prius to accelerate to 60 m.p.h. in about 10.5 seconds, two seconds faster than the current model and on par with a 4-cylinder Camry sedan, Toyota Senior Vice President Don Esmond said at the car's unveiling at the New York Auto Show.
Sounds great... but do you suppose they make a manual?
April 25, 2003

The right to face your accuser   {Comments: 0}

Indefinite detentions are now the Justice Department's blanket policy for illegal immigrants:

US Attorney General John Ashcroft has ruled that the government may detain groups of illegal immigrants indefinitely if federal officials say their release would endanger national security.

The attorney general said that in a time of national emergency such as the war on terrorism, the federal government is not able to make an exhaustive factual investigation of each illegal immigrant.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty? This specious argument about a state of national emergency is going to set our whole legal system on its head. If the government doesn't have the resources to make an exhaustive factual investigation of every person they arrest, then give them more resources!

This is, after all, the same government that just shelled out $79B to put 150,000 troops in the Person Gulf and knock down the Iraqi regime, all in the name of Iraqi freedom. Wouldn't paying for more investigative resources for Homeland Security - even if it's just to help guarantee immigrant civil rights - be a political no-brainer?

April 24, 2003

Anxiety of influence   {Comments: 0}

From Metafilter, this is odd... didn't the 300th episode of the Simpsons air a couple months back? I can only conclude that there's some kind of delay between its initial airing in the states and its airing in the UK. But what possible reason could they have for delaying? It seems kind of backwards, in an age when they could probably have emailed the episode as an attachment.

Cash and carry   {Comments: 0}

In a fun piece on traffic jams, Michael Kinsley makes this suave argument in an aside about what it would mean to have a kidney market:

Should a rich person who needs a kidney replacement be allowed to buy one from a healthy poor person? The answer of all the advanced democracies is: no. Human kidneys should not be part of the dollar economy. A rich person shouldn't be able to get one of yours just because he has more money. But outlawing this deal doesn't thwart just the rich person. It thwarts the poor one too. He thinks he'd be better off with the cash than with the second kidney. We think it's terrible that he has to make that choice, but we're not offering a third alternative. We're just forcing him to take what he thinks is the worst of the current two.
I've posted on this at length before, but of course Kinsley makes the same point much more gracefully.
Burgernomics   {Comments: 0}

The Economist has an understandably self-satisfied explanation of their long-running Big Mac index. Hopefully their predictions for the coming year will be so accurate.

Papa, don't preach   {Comments: 0}

Behold, the creative genius of Madonna. Or maybe the marketing genius... I guess the two are pretty similar where she's concerned. Still, it's worth a laugh. According to Metafilter, the remixes have already begun.

Any future entitlement   {Comments: 0}

PLA, whose permalinks never seem to work, has a very long, very good post on the basics of the funding side of Social Security. He ends up arguing that even though Social Security funds current benefits with current tax revenues, it's not irresponsible as long as our leaders are fiscally responsible. He's right, of course.

Likely contributors?   {Comments: 0}

Via Matt Yglesias, Patrick Belton explains that he's been added to the Bush admin's database of potential campaign contributors, and it is probably because he applied for a federal job.

Having actually held a federal job (with the Social Security Adminstration), I can tell you that many federal employees are forbidden from taking part in political activism at the federal level. I don't know whether this is true for the National Security Council or not, and of course Patrick isn't yet employed, but there's something pretty suspicious about this.

April 23, 2003

Your story didn't hold up   {Comments: 0}

Brett Marston links to this disturbing article on the lack of serious investigative reporting in the American press. Go read it.

MORE: Shock & Awe links to this related commentary from Morning Edition's Bob Edwards. The bit about the media watching the polls as closely as politicians is particularly incisive.

Confirmation wars   {Comments: 0}

This is good news - high profile interventions by the Europeans and now an Egyptian envoy have led to an agreement on the Palsetinian cabinet. One thing that bothers me about this is that through this crisis there hasn't been any mention of a serious US effort, even though Bush has expressed his support for Abu Mazen. Is this because we don't have any credibility with them, because we're occupied elsewhere, or because our stance is implicit after having conquered Iraq?

April 22, 2003

Clark's plans   {Comments: 0}

This report via Taegan makes it look like Wesley Clark won't be running for president. If this is true, it's a big blow to Democrats. Clark is one of the few potential candidates who has any credibility on national security issues, and having him in the primary would have forced others to address these issues. I think if he walks away now it rules out VP too, but look for him as a national security advisor if a Democrat takes office in 2005.

Also Gary Hart, who seems poised to announce his candidacy, has a convincing post on what should be the Democrats' approach to 2004:

Democrats will only win the White House when we convince a majority of voters - including Independents and moderate Republicans - that we have sufficient depth of understanding and experience in world affairs and increasingly complex security issues to promote legitimate American interests as well as to create economic growth and justice. We're now part of a revolutionary new world and can no longer pretend that our own economic challenges are separate from it.
As always, I should point out that I'm loosely affiliated with the Hart campaign. I guess at some point I'll do a post on that and link to it permanently...
Unintended consequences   {Comments: 0}

The Bloviator (whose permalinks aren't working) has some observations about the tradeoffs between voluntary and involuntary quarantine:

Obviously, for purposes of maintaining the proper balance of human rights/dignity and public health protection, a voluntary approach is recommended. And while there are risks to this approach, as evidenced in the above case, the mandatory quarantine approach offers even more significant risks, like those who may be infected being reluctant to come forward and/or seek diagnosis and treatment for fear of being stigmatized and/or locked away.
I can't find any reference to whether quarantines in Hong Kong or China are volunatary, and I'm not sure it's safe to assume that they aren't, even in the case of the latter. I have a feeling we're never going to see any reliable/straightforward information about the initial spread of the disease in China, but if they are using involuntary quarantine, it might be illuminating to compare how the different policies affect contagion levels.
Insult to injury   {Comments: 0}

TalkLeft links to this editorial on the posthumous award of citizenship to US soldiers. It's always seemed strange to me that serving in the military doesn't get you instant citizenship. I guess there has to be some incentive to keep you enlisted, but I'm not sure you have the right to leave when you want anyway, once you're in.

Another bad idea If there's   {Comments: 0}

Another bad idea
If there's anything worse in the eyes of the Arab world than US control of Iraqi oil, it's this (link via Kos).

Game over, man   {Comments: 0}

Eugene Volokh responds to pending legislation in Washington state that would ban video games depicting violence against police. He quotes an opinion by Richard Posner which quickly debunks the only argument I can even anticipate in favor of the ban:

Maybe video games are different. They are, after all, interactive. But this point is superficial, in fact erroneous. All literature (here broadly defined to include movies, television, and the other photographic media, and popular as well as highbrow literature) is interactive; the better it is, the more interactive. Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader's own. Protests from readers caused Dickens to revise Great Expectations to give it a happy ending, and tourists visit sites in Dublin and its environs in which the fictitious events of Ulysses are imagined to have occurred. The cult of Sherlock Holmes is well known.
It looks like the legislation will pass (all it needs now is the governor's signature), but I guess it won't be around long.
April 21, 2003

A new MO   {Comments: 0}

General Jay Garner has arrived in Baghdad, charged with the task of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and assembling a government. I was interested to learn that Garner reports to General Franks, and not to any civilian authority. Does the US military really have the knowhow to establish a functional government in Iraq?

Since it seems clear we're going to be reinventing the military now, maybe it's time to add some new capabilities to the US arsenal. I'm thinking of peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, infrastructure replacement/development, and possibly even interim governance.

Yes, some of these capabilities are already present in our armed forces, but breaking them out into a sepcially outfitted fifth corps could have a lot of benefits. For one thing, specializing tends to bring with it increased professionalism and expertise. But just the act of grouping these missions under a different heading would be a signal to the world: the United States takes this stuff as seriously as combat.

OK, I'm not exactly serious about the idea - it's pretty obvious to me that at least some of these functions are the wrong domain altogether for a military force. (A special museum security brigade is not the answer to the looting debacle we saw last week.) But faced with the fact that we've now had two recent wars end in mass confusuion and uncertainty, it might not be such a bad idea to bone up on our postwar military procedure. After all, we're going to be doing a lot of this kind of thing...

I might be wrong   {Comments: 0}

Jeff Cooper is back today with a long post on why he hasn't been writing much lately. He's having a hard time dealing with the blogosphere's lack of real conversation and understanding:

Perhaps some of this is inevitable. War is very serious business, after all, and it inevitably arouses high passion in the political arena. But it does make me wonder about the utility of continuing this enterprise. I'm not so egotistical as to think that I would change many minds, or even any minds, by writing here. But I did hope at least to make my positions understood, and to come to better understand the arguments of those who see things differently. That requires a certain openness, though, a willingness to attempt to see the world from different perspectives and to take seriously the possibility that I might sometimes be wrong. And, unfortunately, I don't find many other bloggers approaching their writing in a similar spirit.
I definitely share some of the same frustrations. Blogging has turned out to be a lot less conversational than I expected - when I'm not shouting at an empty room, I'm shouting at people who are shouting back. There's not a lot of room in there for subtlety.
Strange bedfellows   {Comments: 0}

Here's a fascinating article about the development of the neocon movement, from a somewhat personal paleocon perspective. I'm always amazed by the foreign policy stuff at The American Conservative - I'll be completely enamored of one paragraph and totally put off by the next. Too bad the publication doesn't seem to be doing very well... after months in print you can still get a charter subscription for peanuts.

Grievous unto us   {Comments: 0}

PG/Bertrand Russell at Half the Sins of Mankind had this to say about my criticism of Colin Powell's State Dept underlings:

[F]rom a bureaucratic perspective, Powell was in the wrong. He is in the employ - even as top management - of an entity that is being sued for at least $33 million and a loss of official reputation. If Michael Eisner had had a fit of lunacy and declared Mickey Mouse to belong in the public domain during the Eldred case, we all would have applauded him for his integrity, as we do now with Powell. But Disney's legal team would have squashed his words immediately as not representing the company's legal position. The State Department must do the same.
The problem with this analogy is that Colin Powell doesn't represent the interests of an amoral corporate machine. In this situtaion, the American people and their government actually have some interest in making things right, or at least owning up to the wrongs committed. If what Powell said really wasn't the position of the State Department, it certainly should be - lawsuit or not.
No comments   {Comments: 0}

Comments have been down for a long time, and apparently IE users are having to click through a flood of error messages. Sorry about that. I haven't noticed too much myself... spent most of my weekend making ravioli.

April 18, 2003

A cautionary tale   {Comments: 0}

Most people posted their tax nightmare stories Tuesday, but since mine continues to drag on, I suppose I can still justify a post.

The problems began when my former employer, the Social Security Administration, failed to change my state tax withholding when I transferred from an office in Indiana to an office in Illinois. I probably bear some responsibility for this too, but at any rate the result was that my taxes for both 2001 and 2002 are completely screwed up on the state level.

In the past, I've always done my own taxes - they've gotten more and more complicated each year, but I've always been up to the task. Not this time. I spent literally hours on the phone last year (at work) trying to sort this mess out, and the Social Security Administration absolutely refused to change the withholding records. Without a correct w-2 form, I was afraid I'd draw a lot of attention to myself, and with self-employment income for the past two years, I'm not exactly eager to be audited. So, at the urging of people close to me, I decided to bite the bullet and pay someone to do my taxes.

Just down the street there's a seasonal office for H&R Block, so I went over there. They were friendly, professional, and when I wondered out loud whether they could handle the problem, they told me "We're H&R Block. We can handle anything."

They were wrong. The fellow who handled my case ended up sending my returns to a central location, where they were promptly botched thanks to a communication failure. Meanwhile, I was instructed to send $400 to the state of Illinois based on the way the Indiana returns should have looked. Unfortunately, when the returns came back, they didn't reflect this at all, since they were processed according to my incorrect w-2 forms and not according to my instructions.

I found this pretty upsetting, since it means I'm out $400 that Illinois won't even know why I've sent. It also means I paid $352 for a bunch of tax returns I could have done myself, and which I'm going to have to do myself anyway thanks to H&R Block's incompetence. Luckily, I was able to get a hefty refund by raising hell at the central office; and after talking with the guy who actually handled my tax return there it looks like I may be able to handle the problem myself. Of course, I've still sent $400 into the vast Illinois tax bureaucracy, and I have no idea when or how I'll get it back.

I guess the moral of this story is, don't hire a so-called expert to do something you can do perfectly well yourself. And similarly, don't assume that the so-called experts actually know more than you do, especially when it concerns your problems.

Off the reservation   {Comments: 0}

Both Unlearned Hand and Archpundit have commended Colin Powell for telling the truth about the US role in the murder of democratically-elected Chilean leader Salvador Allende in 1973 (followed by the installation of General Augusto Pinochet as dictator). They're obviously right - it's nice to see some candor from the government about one of the most despicable acts of the Cold War.

What I don't understand is how the State Department could release a statement contradicting Powell. For one thing, it makes the whole bunch of them look like Cold War relics. But more to the point, isn't it a bad idea to undermine the Secretary of State's credibility? This wasn't just a leak, it was a full-fledged statement. If you ask me, heads should roll...

Bait and switch   {Comments: 0}

Josh Marshall thinks mulitlateral talks with the DPRK aren't mulitlateral at all, with China basically playing a host role, and Japan and Russia uninvited. It's not clear what the Chinese think of this or what the US reaction will be, but this kind of plateau negotiating tactic isn't really a surprise, as BigOldGeek noted in comments below. Meanwhile, the business about reprocessing plutonium rods, true or not, is a real slap in the face. We'll soon see what it gets them.

April 17, 2003

Old masters   {Comments: 0}

I haven't exactly made a habit of blogging about books I'm reading (although if my reading habits ever fully recover from my decision to start a blog, this may change), but in the past couple days I've been flipping through a slim volume by Thomas Bernhard that demands a mention here.

Bernhard was most famous for his plays, but I've only had occasion to read his novels. These tend to be stylistically difficult - dense, repetitive, ambiguous interior monologues, unreliably narrated - and thick with familial bitterness and self-destructive artistic ambition. My kind of stuff...

The book I just picked up, The Voice Imitator, is a departure - it's actually not even fiction. Bernhard takes events from his personal life, rumors, stories from the news; and he comments on them, perfectly drawing out the ironies for the reader. The form is quite short - none is longer than a page - and maybe it was this tautness that reminded me of some blogs I've read.

I've decided to reproduce a couple of these short pieces here, just for the hell of it, really. Let me know what you think....

Last week in Linz 180 people died who had the flu that is currently raging in Linz, but they died not from the flu but as the result of a prescription that was misunderstood by a newly appointed pharmacist. The pharmacist will probably be charged with reckless homicide, possibly, according to the paper, even before Christmas.

An old lady who lived near us had gone too far in her charity. She had, as she thought, taken in a poor Turk, who at the outset was grateful that he no longer had to live in a hovel scheduled to be torn down but was now - through the charity of the old lady - allowed to live in her town house surrounded by a large garden. He had made himself useful to the old lady as a gardner and, as time went by, was not only completel re-outfitted with clothes by her but was actually pampered by her. One day the Turk appeared at the police station and reported that he had murdered the old lady who had, out of charity, taken him into her house. Strangled, as the officers of the court determined on the visit they immediately made to the scene of the crime. When the Turk was asked by the officers of the court why he had murdered the old lady by strangling her, he replied, out of charity.

Many years ago a photographer took up residence in Ebensee; from the very first day he was rumored to have spent several years in prison for having molested a thirteen-year-old boy from Ischl. Not a single person had their photograph taken by the photographer, who expected to do good business in Ebensee, where so many weddings take place throughout the year, or at the very least to make a decent income, and he finally had to close down his business and move out again. It is said that there was no truth to the rumor; it was originally spread by the Traunkirchen photographer Stroessner. Stroessner has now stated that his colleague has committed suicide, but it is not known how.

Again, the book is The Voice Imitator, by Thomas Bernhard. The translator is Kenneth J. Norcott.
Further reading   {Comments: 1}

I've pruned the blogroll a bit and made some valuable additions at the same time: Larry Magitti, How Appealing, Unlearned Hand, Half the Sins of Mankind, and Cowboy Kahlil.

MORE: Forgot to add Bryan Pfaffenberger's Pfaffenblog.

Casus belli   {Comments: 0}

According to this article, the US forces will enter Syria if Saddam is found to be hiding there:

American special forces in western Iraq have been told that they can enter Syria to grab the former President, and in all likelihood kill him, if they have "credible Intelligence" of his whereabouts. Their commanders would justify the action under the doctrine of "hot pursuit", the disputed theory that soldiers who are in the act of hunting a terrorist suspect are allowed under international law to enter a foreign country without permission.
I'm not sure the premise - that we're somehow bound by international law - is even relevant after our invasion of Iraq, but I guess it puts a veneer of legitimacy on what otherwise seems to be wanton militaristic opportunism...

By the way, since when is Saddam a terrorist?

Modelling disaster   {Comments: 0}

Matt Yglesias links to this fascinating application of standard economic models to the Bush tax cut. The stated conclusions don't leave much room for optimism.

While I'm obviously no friend of the Bush admin's tax policy, I should say that I'm highly skeptical of all this macroeconomic modelling and what it can say about the effects a big tax package like this one will have. The tax environment in the United States is extraordinarily complex, and before you can determine what effect a particular change will have, you have to control for all the other policies already in effect.

Will Hart run?   {Comments: 0}

Via Seth Michaels, here's a disturbing report that our very own Ezra Klein might've jumped the gun with his call for Hart campaign volunteers. I'm actually very interested in the opportunity, but my one concern is that Hart still hasn't announced his candidacy. Ezra's attestations to the contrary notwithstanding, this latest news is a downer.

April 16, 2003

Powering fusion   {Comments: 0}

PLA links to an article on an alternative approach to fusion power. It seems somewhat more promising than the compressed hydrogen approach, at least in the near-term.

There's also some interesting discussion of fusion power on a comment thread at Matt Yglesias's site. Several people (me included) argue for a Manhattan Project-style investment in fusion power by the US government.

Loot/Counterloot   {Comments: 0}

Matt Yglesias links to an interesting suggestion on OxBlog that the UK might return some of the historical/anthrolpological treasures taken from Iraq under British rule, to help replace those lost in the looting of the National Museum of Antiquities. The idea here is to have it done willingly, but I've always wondered whether there was any precedent under international law for suing to get some of these items back. This would seem to be reasonable enough - after all, European countries are refusing to waive the massive debts owed by Iraq's pre-war government. I don't see why former European governments should get special treatment...

Also, Bryan Pfaffenberger (link via body and soul) has more questions about the reasons for the looting. Incredibly, the DoD is denying it had any responsibility to protect the artifacts, even though they were clearly forewarned.

April 15, 2003

Loot first, shame later   {Comments: 0}

Steven Landsburg has another lifeless economic analysis over at Slate - this time he's talking about the economic implications of looting. First he explains the conventional wisdom on what makes looting bad, but then he says something surptising:

But I wonder how much of the property in Baghdad was legitimately earned in the first place. Iraq, for at least two decades, has been a society where many rewards have flowed not to those who served the needs of the marketplace, but to those who served the needs of the tyrant. If those rewards are redistributed to the tyrant's victims, that's fine with me.
I wouldn't have expected this kind of redistributionist thinking from Landsburg, but I do have some sympathy for the argument that what's being stolen ultimately belongs to the people of Iraq. Unfortunately, he seems to have missed some of the nuance here. It's not clear whether he thinks accomplishing this redistribution by looting is efficient, or equitable, or both...

I see two big holes in his analysis. First of all, he's all too willing to accept massive income inequality as a justification for a complete breakdown in property rights. Aren't well defined and accepted property rights the most fundamental component of a market economy? But for days, American forces sat idly by, watching these rights disintegrate. I believe this has serious implications for Iraq's future.

The other issue specifically involves the looting of museums. The archaeological treasures being taken are (or at least, were) public goods, so for an economist their value is a summation of individual utilities. But all this value is lost when they're distributed privately, because they can only be appreciated by a much smaller number of individuals. The suggestion that they belong to the Iraqi people is specious - Iraqis still posess them if they remain in the museum, don't they?

Kindalateral   {Comments: 0}

Josh Marshall isn't exactly jumping up and down over the DPRK's concession with respect to multilateral talks. For one thing, they've apparently refused to deal with Japan and Russia:

The rationale for the exclusion, according to the article is that the UN, China, North Korea and the United States were the only signatories to the original 1953 armistice agreement. So Russia and Japan are just not relevant to a new conference that would move beyond the armistice agreement and toward a non-aggression pact - the North Koreans' key, and apparently still operative, demand.

That may work as a rationale. But it doesn't really wash as a reason.

To me the real quirk/insight in Marshall's thinking is the notion that it could be the United States, not North Korea, that wants war here. For all the talk about the DPRK's paranoia, a US strike doesn't seem all that implausible. But for some reason, I've generally seen the North Koreans as having made the first move - they are the ones developing nuclear weapons, they are the ones making demands, etc. - and I think a lot of American probably feel the same way. BigOldGeek, for example, argues in comments below that our symbolic show of force (ie the war in Iraq) is what brought them to the negotiating table. But was it really the North Koreans who were unwilling to negotiate?
No fire in the belly   {Comments: 0}

Several people have noted that Peter Fitzgerald won't seek a second term as Illinois senator... Archpundit sees another divisive primary for Republicans, followed by another general election meltdown. We can only hope!

I was actually disappointed at the news - Fitzgerald would've been an unusually weak candidate, one largely spurned by his own party. But now, if the Republicans get their act together, they can nominate someone serious and rally around a candidate, which will make the campaign that much more difficult for Democrats.

UPDATE: Now it looks like Jim Edgar may run. As usual, Archpundit has the goods, with more analysis in the comment thread.

April 14, 2003

Fightin' words   {Comments: 0}

It's incredible how quickly we're faced with the specter of an American invasion of Syria. The bluster is getting bigger and bigger every day, like some kind of fast-forward replay of the buildup against Iraq.

Today Matthew Yglesias argues/hopes that our threats have to be credible if they're going to be effective, but that a real, live attack is unlikely. Haven't we heard this before? For how many months did we hear that our president hadn't made up his mind yet about whether to attack Iraq? The truth is, they've planned all this since September 12, 2001.

Just one quick point about Syria vs Iraq (don't worry, I'll be coming back to this issue, I expect we all will): there's no weapons of mass destruction issue in Syria. The UN has never passed a resolution banning WMD from Syria, and Syria has never tapped its arsenal. Yes, the Syrian government is a shady bunch, but they have a legitimate security rationale for building up an arsenal. You see, they border Israel - a country which posesses nuclear weapons, hasn't signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has no stated policy on the use of its nuclear arsenal. In that neighborhood, the threat of chemical retaliation is small comfort indeed.

Keep the blog rolling   {Comments: 0}

There's a heartfelt defense of Sean-Paul over at Shock and Awe - I'm glad to see someone else is giving this guy the benefit of the doubt. I guess it's not surprising that the blog community has turned its back on him, since the flavor of his site has changed so dramatically (and maybe there's some jealousy, too?) but I really feel he's provided a wonderful service. So many people are so much better informed because of Sean-Paul, and informed in a way they couldn't have been if they'd relied solely on traditonal media. Yes he made a mistake, but he's handled it well. I, for one, plan to keep reading.

Imitating virtual reality?   {Comments: 0}

Someone pointed me to this extensive art gallery, and I have to say, it makes me a little self-conscious about the content I publish on this site. You can walk through whole buildings in Italy, with blueprints to accompany the carefully ordered images of frescos, paintings, etc. I've always gone in more for modern art, but what a remarkable opportunity to explore...

Self-deprecating to the last   {Comments: 0}

The BigOldGeek prefers to remain anonymous, but he bears a remarkable resemblance to a good friend of mine. That he's linked only to one blog so far - this one! - is also somewhat suggestive. I'll be keeping my eye on him...

The tiny blueprint of an angle   {Comments: 0}

Yes, it's amazing that they've managed to map the entire human genome, but I was even more amazed to read that there are only 3 billion base pairs. This means that my laptop could store 25 copies of my genetic code!

What's really incredible about this is that my computer is nowhere near as complex as a human body, and yet it can easily hold the so-called blueprint for human life. This is possible because DNA is more than just a blueprint. The code contained in our DNA is meaningful only in the context of human development. The proteins it encodes interact with their immediate environment, so that cells which begin exactly the same begin to differentiate, depending for instance on their orientation in the womb. So, while the information contained in those 3 billion base pairs is just a bunch of protein sequences, the entire programme of individual human development is implicitly present.

(This, by the way, is the reason I've always been skeptical of the nature-nurture debate, which doesn't seem to take into account the complexity of interaction between the two.)

MORE: It turns out they've also identified the genetic sequence of SARS, which weighs in at a measly 29,000 base pairs. But the point here is the same - the genetic code itself doesn't tell the whole story, otherwise we'd have a cure already...

Every 17 minutes   {Comments: 0}

My apologies for the posting lull over the past three days or so. I was in Indianapolis for a preview of the opera - ICC did two scenes in full costume as part of their annual Voices of Youth concert. It wasn't too bad, although I will say that out of context, the scenes didn't make a lot of sense. Hopefully the audience will be a little less baffled by the premiere!

April 11, 2003

Economies in transition   {Comments: 0}

Russian economist Vladimir Popov spoke in one of my classes today on democracy and development in transitional economies. His research focuses on countries which were previously command economies with authoritarian governments, but which have liberalized in terms of legal and/or political institutions. His conclusions were surprising: the countries with less democratization of their political structures showed consistently better econonomic growth, as long as they had liberal legal institutions. That is, the best performers were countries that protected individuals' civil and property rights, but localized political power in a strong central authority.

The conventional wisdom, which most Americans would seem to buy into without question, is that democracy is a sure engine for economic growth. But this just hasn't been the case with transitional countries - the impressive economic success stories of Singapore, South Korea, and to a lesser extent China have been achieved by authoritarian political structures atop rapidly liberalizing legal and civil institutions.

Mr Popov is not arguing that democracy is a bad thing - obviously there are reasons besides economic growth for implementing political reforms! - but it's important to weigh the costs of democracy along with the benefits. Democratic reforms in Russia, for instance, have led to a crippling deterioration of the rule of law, leaving the economy without the vital institutions it needs to grow.

Right now all eyes are on Iraq, and the hope is that a successful democracy will emerge - one that will demonstrate the potential democracy has for the entire Arab world. The neocons have argued that Iraq is a perfect case for democracy, and there's some reason to believe that in this case they're right. After all, Iraq has a highly educated populace, relatively equal rights for women, and even a secular state - all important institutions for economic development.

What's a little muddier is how this strategy will work in countries lacking such a strong institutional framework. It may be disingenuous to claim that democratic reforms will instantly transform the economies of the Arab world. Working to build strong civil and property rights, along with institutions that defend them, might be a more prudent first step.

April 10, 2003

Institutional design   {Comments: 2}

Matt Yglesias has a highly informative discussion of the Canadian Constitution, in light of the nation building we're about to commence in Iraq. Although I'm not sure why he says this:

[O]ne thing the occupation force in Iraq is going to need to do in order to establish democracy is to write a constitution. This should be done, of course, in consultation with some Iraqi people, but we're still going to need to do it.
I don't see why the Iraqi people couldn't write their own constitution - and in our stated role as liberators, wouldn't it make sense for us to take a back seat to them?

But I do think that the Bush administration agrees with him. Bush himself has voiced an interest in a federated system, mainly to keep Kurdish hands away from the oil in Kirkuk, which would give them too much independence. From an institutional design standpoint, this arrangement would seem to resemble the US system more than some others. Nothing's been said about guaranteed rights though, to my knowledge.

MORE: The Invisible Adjunct also responds.

Written by the victors   {Comments: 0}

Krugman is good, Kinsley is better.

Mad dog litigation tactics   {Comments: 0}

There's plenty more criticism of the State Farm decision at PLA (sorry, no permalink).

April 9, 2003

Troop movements   {Comments: 0}

This seems sure to disrupt the balance of power in Korea, and it may even be a prelude to war. When Rumsfeld first suggested moving US troops out a couple months back, it looked more like a nudge to get Seoul back in step with Washington - I didn't think it was a real possibility.

American officials say that the high technology, long distance weaponry displayed daily in television broadcasts from the war in Iraq highlight the obsolete nature of the half century old strategy of posting American soldiers on North Korea's border. American officials also bridle at the concept of a human 'tripwire,' or the posting thousands of American soldiers near the border in the belief that the carnage caused by a cross-border attack from the north would outrage the American public and guarantee American participation in a second Korean War.
Would they really expect a second Korean War to look like what we just saw? That seems pretty unlikely, given the strength and organization of the North Korean military.

I think getting US troops out of Seoul could be the prelude to a move against North Korean nuclear facilities - probably a series of airstrikes. In the event of such an attack, US troops in Seoul would immediately become a target for the North Korean army; but if we moved them away (and if the South denied inolvement), it would be political suicide for the DPRK to bombard Seoul. Don't know if this would stop them from doing it anyway, but if they did we'd have plenty of international support to prosecute a fullscale war...

Paradise lost   {Comments: 0}

Well, my euphoria of this morning is gone... it pretty much evaporated when I read this report. What happened to building a strong democracy in Iraq to subvert neighboring regimes by example? No, these guys want to build an empire.

Read all about it   {Comments: 0}

I love the New York Times. Today they have a fascinating article on what goes into the price of wine.

Gone where the goblins go   {Comments: 0}

The news this morning is absolutely stunning - the New York Times headline reads "Jubilant Iraqis Swarm the Streets of Capital." Saddam Hussein is no longer the leader of Iraq! After the resistance we've faced in other parts of the country, I was afraid Baghdad might be much more difficult. Glad to say I was wrong.

Of course the military phase might drag on for a while - there's still Tikrit, and Baghdad may hold nasty pockets of resistance - but the more difficult political work is about to begin. I hope we won't get too cocky... Iraqis are cheering because Saddam is gone, but who knows whether their enthusiasm will extend to US nation building?

April 8, 2003

The war of rules   {Comments: 0}

Haggai responds (in comments, which unfortunately don't have permalinks) to my post on decapitation strikes and the rules of war:

Our moral outrage over civilian deaths is also dramatically improved from the past. Almost no one in this country was bothered by the massive bombing of German cities in WWII, unlike today where our armed forces take great care to avoid killing non-combatants. Of course it still happens sometimes, as is unavoidable in war, but we certainly aren't targeting them.
Apparently there's some clear reason why civilian casualties are worse than military casualties, but I don't see it. Maybe you could argue that military personnel know what they're getting into, but how do you deal with drafts? I'm guessing not all Iraqi soldiers are fighting because they choose to. Yet it's morally acceptable to kill them, and morally reprehensible to kill civilians. Why?

From a tactical standpoint, it makes sense to concentrate on those who pose a threat. So we're left with a gentlemen's agreement between warring powers, an agreement that it's better to limit the destruction and death to a specific portion of the population. We put on uniforms, wave flags... basically, it's a way of making war more organized. And as we've seen in Iraq, it's a prisoner's dilemma - each side has ample opportunity and incentive to break the rules anyway. Stigma and international law serve as counterweights, but they aren't entirely effective.

The obvious historical explanation for the development of these rules is the monarchies that populated Europe for hundreds of years - since the general population didn't have a stake in government, widespread civilian casualties were extremely dangerous to the leadership. I'm not suggesting the rules that developed were always followed, but I want to point out that they were shaped by a different set of political circumstances than we have today.

What brought all this up was the DoD's targeting of Saddam as part of Iraq's command structure, and the legitimacy of such decapitation strikes. As I mentioned before, the American command structure includes the American people. Does this make them a legitimate military target? The argument that we should only attack those who pose a threat doesn't apply here - citizens in a democratic society are to a great degree responsible for the actions of their leadership.

I don't really have any bold conclusions to draw here, but I do think it's important to be critical of apparently moral institutions like the rules of war.

Live from the Palestine Hotel   {Comments: 0}

Seth Michaels highlights the following quote from this article:

The US admitted it had made "a grave mistake" bombing al-Jazeera and said it had opened fire on the Palestine Hotel after coming under attack from snipers. But that account has been dismissed as "absurd" by journalists working out of the hotel.
What's strange about this is that I knew Al Jazeera was in that hotel - or at least, I knew they'd been operating out of there earlier in the war. Much was made of the fact that the hotel was left standing, while buildings nearby were destroyed by precision munitions.
Political activism   {Comments: 0}

Ezra Klein warned me he was going to put a Gary Hart Meetup sticker/button on his site. I'm not sure I'm ready to participate in this proliferation, but I will add Gary to my blogroll. He's doing an admirable job responding to comments...

So you want to write a weblog   {Comments: 0}

This blog (via Metafilter) has a powerful message for you.

Reasonable and proportionate   {Comments: 0}

The Supreme Court has thrown out a $145M punitive damage award against State Farm (link via NathanNewman):

"In sum, courts must ensure that the measure of punishment is both reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff," Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the majority.
Certainly compensatory damages should be "proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff," but punitive damages? That seems like a strange stipulation. I don't have any legal background, but from a policy standpoint punitive damages should be sufficiently large to prevent the behavior from continuing. For a company like State Farm, with millions of customers (including the writer, unfortunately), punitive damages should be truly massive.

Clearly I can't speak to the legal specifics of the case, but as a principle it seems to me these awards should be based on the potential for similar cases rather than the the amount of harm done to an individual plaintiff.

The most powerful mayor in America   {Comments: 0}

Archpundit makes the case that Daley was right to shut Meigs down:

Last Monday, after the late night demolition, I was critical of Daley for the manner in which he pulled off this stunt, but the shutting down of Meigs is very reasonable. After hearing from the critics of the move, I'm starting to think Daley acted too mildly and should have gone further. The only lame part of Daley's argument is his trying to justify it for security reasons.
I too was shocked by the rabid fanaticism of Meigs supporters... but I still think carving X's into the runway by moonlight was a bizarre move. How could he have gone further? It was an ugly display of power, one he knew he would get away with. That it was a good idea to get rid of Meigs doesn't change that.
April 7, 2003

Saddam's bad things   {Comments: 0}

Naturally, Lisa English is skeptical of the latest alleged chemical weapons discovery by coalition forces; their veracity as well as their legitimacy as a justification for war are at issue.

Nothing to say here about whether the claims are true, but I don't find the "Aha!" coming from hawks particularly consoling. If Saddam, armed to the teeth with "weapons of mass destruction," hasn't even fired them upon being attacked by a vastly superior conventional force (that, after all, was our trigger in a policy of preemptive nuclear strikes in Europe during the Cold War), it's hard to see how he posed a real threat to us. No, containment would have worked just fine here - at least where the WMDs are concerned.

UPDATE: Another false alarm (link via Counterspin).

The power of balance   {Comments: 0}

Dwight Meredith describes a pattern of "contempt for congress" on the part of the Bush administration. This has been going on for some time now, and it probably doesn't help matters that Congress dodged its responsibility in giving Bush the power to go to war at his convenience. It's good to see they're finally growing a backbone.

Lifted word-for-word   {Comments: 0}

Matt Yglesias links to this article on the dark side of The Agonist. As someone who was reading Sean Paul pretty closely in those first few days of the war, I knew he was lifting things whole from other sources - he definitely presented himself as a filter. But while it occurred to me at the time that it might not be kosher, I think it's fair to say he was acting under extreme time constraints, where some mistakes can be expected. This shouldn't excuse him from responsibility, but to my mind this stuff is a lot less sinister than FOX stealing CNN's shuttle feed, for instance.

Matt also says that he liked the Agonist better before. I did too, as far as blogs are concerned, but the newsfilter service he's provided is immensely important, given the way cable news has been covering the war. It's not clear yet whether he's going to transition back - I know he's discussed the possibility of continuing these rapidfire news updates even after the war - but I do hope he eventually gets back to doing some commentary.

April 5, 2003

Too many chiefs   {Comments: 0}

The more I think about the decapitation strike that started this war, the more disturbed I become. Is it really legitimate to target a foreign leader? The DoD has variously said that a) we're fighting a war against the leadership of Iraq, not the people; b) strikes in the first hours of the war were designed to destroy the Iraqi leadership; and c) Saddam is a legitimate military target because he's the supreme commander of the Iraqi military.

The problem with this is that George Bush is the supreme commander of the American military. Do we really consider him a legitimate target? I think Americans (and certainly the DoD) would be outraged if an Iraqi strike against Washington killed or incapacitated our leader.

People will respond that George Bush is an elected leader in a representative government, so that somehow makes differentiates him from the Iraqi leader. But this raises an even bigger and more disturbing prospect: that the American people, with their representative governemnt, somehow bear the final responsibility for their government's decisions. Wouldn't that make the American public a legitimate military target, by the same logic?

I need to research this a little more, but my sense is that our rules of war - along with our moral outrage over needless civilian deaths - come from a time when wars and governments looked a little different than they do today. But either way, I think this policy of decapitation strikes against foreign leaders has some disturbing and possibly unexpected implications.

Reciprocity   {Comments: 0}

Thanks to The Invisible Adjunct, Seth Michaels, Kynn at Shock & Awe, Charles Kuffner, and De Spectaculis for the links. I'm planning to reorganize my unruly list of links to the right very soon...

April 4, 2003

Bite-sized   {Comments: 0}

Kynn has all the background on Nizar al-Khazraji, a former Iraqi general who vanished from his exile home in Debmark three days before the war began.

Via skimble, a doctored photograph appears on the front page of the LA Times.

Nathan Newman discusses the bizarre (and now defunct) American scheme to privatize the fresh water market in Umm Qasr before the war is even over.

April 3, 2003

Your humble narrator   {Comments: 0}

For the record, my name is Paul Goyette. At the moment, I'm studying public policy at the University of Chicago, with hopes of finishing in mid 2004. I've lived in the Chicago area for a couple years, mostly working for the Social Security Administration and writing a children's opera entitled The Trio of Minuet with my good friend David Sasso.

Before moving here, I was an undergrad at Indiana University. Officially, I studied comparative literature and Russian, but I spent just as much time publishing literary magazines and writing for the Indiana Daily Student. I also had the good fortune to spend long periods in Ecuador and Russia. Fond memories, all.

Returns to scale   {Comments: 0}

Ezra Klein on the blogopshere as political tool:

As for the feasibility of using blogs as a campaign tool (a question Mr. Kuffner punts to Jim Cappozzola for further exploration), it would certainly depend on the campaign. If used correctly, a campaign like Hart's could powerfully benefit from the blogging "constituency". However, blogs could have a much stronger effect on smaller level campaigns, particularly House and Statewide contests.
I don't see why this should be the case. There are still few enough blogs out there that you won't find many in any particular locality - nor do people really look to the internet for local news/info (obviously there are exceptions, especially on/near college campuses). It seems to me one of the main upsides of the blogpshere is the unprecedented national and even international connectivity it affords. I'm not suggesting that makes it an effective tool for a national campaign, but it's hard to see how a local campaign could make better use of it.
Mightier than the sword?   {Comments: 0}

I haven't posted about the war in a few days, mainly because the news drip seems to have slowed down significantly - especialy when it comes to news with real political implications. All the colorfully arrayed military operations, after capturing my attention in the first few days, have really started to blend together. And with this latest, breathtaking sweep toward Baghdad, there's the choice between saying a) we're in the home stretch, or b) this sounds ominous. Neither really merits a post!

I think I've come to the conclusion that war is bad for blogging. Sure, it's been great for some people (this means you, Sean Paul), and inasmuch as it's raised their profiles, I think it will be good for the medium. But as so many people have pointed out, blogging is better suited to discussion and debate than it is to reporting. And unfortunately, a deployed M-1 tank tends to limit discussion and debate.

These things called changes   {Comments: 0}

Well, Left in the West has closed up shop, and just after I added him to my blogroll. That's a disappointment, for sure. Maybe he'll pop back up sometime in the future? The door seems open.

On a happier note, Matt Yglesias announced yesterday that he's taken a job with The American Prospect. Hopefully this doesn't mean he'll abandon his own site, which permits him to display a lot more personality than TAPPED would. I'm guessing he's prolific enough to handle both...

Jazzy, impromptu riffs   {Comments: 0}

Hart Seely at Slate went and added line breaks to some of Rumsfeld's knottier press briefing circumlocutions, and it really does make stunning poetry.

April 2, 2003

On affirmative action   {Comments: 0}

I've been somewhat hesitant to weigh in on the issue of affirmative action because I have mixed feelings about it. But I've been really disturbed by the talk from Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein about making affirmative action class-based.

I've supported the race-based variety in the past, but I feel very strongly that, from the point of view of the individual actor, it's highly problematic. That is, if we try to game which individual has an advantage or disadvantage in terms of opportunity, we quickly run into trouble. We can see that individuals are infinitely diverse - each of us has different talents and weaknesses, even before we take into account external things like race and income. The state is not in the business of trying to eliminate that basic diversity, nor should it be. And while it's possible in the agregate to correct for the external factors (race, income, parenting, education, health care, cultural exposure), to some extent that basic diversity of individuals will be rendered meaningless/impotent. For an issue like income inequality, this seems like an awfully extreme solution.

That said, I believe there's a much stronger argument for race-based affirmative action, and it has nothing to do with equalizing individual circumstances. The fact is, certain groups have been repeatedly abused by our society, and have in the process come to believe that they can't succeed within the same institutional structures that have oppressed them. (Obviously this has been true for African Americans in the past; whether it's still the case is what the Supreme Court is debating now.) But by pushing some individuals through the system, success stories are created, and the perception of these historically oppressed groups can change. It's only this much broader end - recasting the attitudes of a whole subculture - that can justify the gross inequalities affirmative action creates for individuals.

Yes, class and income inequality are serious problems, but there's no dearth of success stories for the working poor in America, and it's much harder to talk about a pattern of historical oppression. Besides, aren't there much more precise policies for dealing with the problems of poverity? In the realm of college admittance, for instance, we already have a huge superstructure of student loan programs, tax credits, and education subsidies. Certainly these policies could be improved, but affirmative action's significant drawbacks make it inappropriate.

By the way, it's very possible that in other countries - I'm thinking India, or even Britain, where class plays a much bigger role than it does for Americans - class-based affirmative action might make some sense.

April 1, 2003

L'achat fou   {Comments: 0}

CalmelsCohen is auctioning at least some (?) of their Andre Breton collection. I'm wondering whether this is the same exhibit I saw two years ago on the third floor of the Centre Pompidou... if so, it's not clear to me why they would be selling it. That stuff was along the lines of a French national treasure - everything that man owned was a part of his literary production. (Link via Metafilter.)

UPDATE: It turns out Breton's whole collection is for sale - except for a wall of items at the Centre Pompidou. There's lots of protest, but the French government apparently has some preemptive purchasing rights, so some of the items may stay in public hands.

Better than catblogging   {Comments: 0}

Ezra Klein has started noting what he's listening to as he blogs - the idea is that "you can tell a lot about someone by their music." Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias, by his own admission, has bad taste in music. Who knew?

NP: Joyce, Nome de Guerra, from the Hard Bossa album.

Reverse snobbery   {Comments: 0}

Haggai responds to Andrew Sullivan:

[W]hat's up with the liberal "elites"? Liberals, inasmuch as people who accept that label share similar political views, don't look at issues like Iraq too differently whether they're in the "elite" or not. Why does no one ever talk about the "conservative elites," a label which certainly describes Sullivan?
Unlike Haggai, I've really stopped reading Sullvian in the past couple months, but it seems to me this has been part of his discourse ever since 9/11 - one of his main problems with liberalism is that liberal academics (Susan Sontag, Stanley Fish) have lost touch with reality. So he's weidling the word as a nasty pejorative...
Blast from the past   {Comments: 0}

Noticed today that another one of my former columnists at the Indiana Daily Student has a political blog... Scott Tibbs was my controversial conservative every Monday morning. There are others - Laura Taflinger is here and Tony Manifold/Caroselli used to have a blog - but they don't seem to deal with political issues.

I find it interesting that it's the conservative columnists who are still actively writing opinions - it's not at all what I would have expected at the time. It's hard to know whether this is part of some broader trend. I can tell you that before I started blogging, I was convinvced that there were more conservatives and libertarians blogging than liberals... but now I feel completely unable to make that kind of assessment. Anybody have a sense? I guess the talking dog has made some effort to classify people, but that list may not be extensive enough.

Technical difficulties   {Comments: 0}

Obviously Blogger hasn't been working properly, but things have been made even more difficult by the keyboard on my Dell laptop, which suddenly doesn't work at all. Fortunately, I've managed to obtain a desktop keyboard to plug into it, but I have a feeling it'll be a real pain in the ass to get it fixed...