January 31, 2004

Knowing your constituents   {Comments: 1605}

A friend pointed out this humorous exchange between Bush and the Polish president:

At the press conference, Mr. Bush, frequently accused of overstating the Iraqi threat, suggested his friend tended to exaggerate the visa plight of Polish Americans. "Poland is our great friend," Mr. Bush said. "There are thousands of Polish Americans who..."

"Millions," interrupted Mr. Kwasniewski.

"Millions, excuse me," said Mr. Bush. "I just don't want to overstate the case here."

Mr. Kwasniewski reminded Mr. Bush that the "millions and millions" of Polish Americans would be voting in the U.S. presidential election. "The future of the world is without visa, not with visa," he said.

As I understand it, there are about a million Poles in Chicago, which makes it the second largest Polish population in the world. But it's not really a surprise Bush doesn't know about them - Illinois doesn't usually figure prominently in presidential campaigns...
Innovation innovation   {Comments: 448}

Thomas Goetz thinks the US is relying too much on an antiquated conception of intellecutal property. He has some grave predictions about how American attitudes toward innovation and regulation will affect trade, globalization, and the American economy. He's right, but what he doesn't give us is an alternative R&D model that will work in the context of American capitalism. Are there models of private R&D investment that don't require IP protections? My hunch is no, but I'd be thrilled to entertain other possibilities...

January 29, 2004

Better ways to choose   {Comments: 0}

Dan Johnson-Weinberger is quoted in Slate touting the proportional voting system that lets films with a strong minority following get nominated for an Oscar. Of course, Dan's less interested in Oscars than in democratic institutions, and his position hasn't been able to gain wide currency - probably because people don't like to fiddle with the design of long standing institutional structures. But aside from the anxiety about change (which, make no mistake, is a serious issue), it's hard to see why people would oppose this... we already have proportional representation for states; why not extend this to other kinds of minorities?

One question though, about the Oscars. If the system is so good at producing minority canddiates, why are this year's nominations getting so much attention for being different?

More palatable?   {Comments: 1098}

Here's an interesting article on Wall Street's perception of John Kerry, complete with statistics on how securities firms divide up their campaign contributions.

January 28, 2004

Bird brain   {Comments: 0}

This is an incredible (and impossible?) development... a bird with a 950 word vocabulary who uses three tenses and has a sense of humor. He apparently used the word "flied" when he should have said "flew" - the kind of mistake that betrays a systematic comprehension of how to form the past tense! I'm speechless...

One a year   {Comments: 0}

The hometown paper breaks this story about the Bush admin's plans to launch an operation in Pakistan, although apparently the Pakistanis aren't on board yet.

The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, military sources said.
Does it strike anyone else as strange that recent assassination attempts on Musharraf are motivating this action, while the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon that took the lives of thousands of Americans didn't? Certainly taking out the al Qaeda leadership was more urgent than an elective war in Iraq - and yet we've apparently waited two and a half years to start thinking about a deathblow.

Musharraf is in a hard spot on this issue - the assassination attempts are clearly coming from al Qaeda operating within his borders, but letting the US military operate in Pakistan would mean dealing with the domestic perception that he's impotent and colluding with the US - and then he's got to worry about Bush's imperial designs. I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which he'd cooperate.

Also interesting that Bush's timetable for this was moved up from 2005 to the middle of this year - I wonder what that could be about...

January 26, 2004

Votes vs dollars   {Comments: 0}

More on the relationship between dollars and votes, from a reader:

At the end, in a US election, you have to go from dollars to votes, and what bothers me is that there is a positive relationship between campaign spending and votes. When voters are rational, political advertising shouldn't matter. You or I will not be influenced by such spending, but enough people are that it becomes important how much money a candidate has. As an economist, it's virtually impossible to make sense of this. That is, in a world in which agents are rational, this would never happen. The only possibility that leaves is that people are not rational, which in this case more or less means stupid.
An excellent point. The question of rationality among voters (or anybody really) isn't really dealt with at the policy school I attend, because without rationality it's simply impossible to build models, which means there's nowhere to begin an analysis. For shame...

One way of explaining voters' seeming irrationality (notice I'm in denial about the possibility that voters are really irrational) here is to look at information. Without a complete set of facts before them, even rational voters can't be expected to make the most rational decision. And our system doesn't do a very good job of getting all the facts out there - our private media is set up with the primary goal of increasing its own influence (and therefore profit). To be sure, there is a remote possibility the media's behavior can turn out the same as if its purpose were simply to inform the public, but such a result would require a public already educated and engaged by the political process. We are not such a public.

Handicapping the primaries 2   {Comments: 0}

Just a couple quick notes about tomorrow. Obviously Kerry looks good to win it, unless the polls are dead wrong (which, it must be pointed out, they have been in the past). The real question for me is whether Clark shows up or not. Second place, and he's a serious contender next week, with a shot at the nomination eventually. Less than a strong second and he's basically done - and this is where it gets interesting. With Clark in the race, Edwards's numbers aren't that impressive for next week, and he could wind up taking only South Carolina, leaving several states for Kerry. But with Clark out of the race, my guess is more of Clark's votes go to Edwards than Kerry, and Edwards has a chance to really contend for the nomination down the road.

Note I haven't mentioned Dean, I think he's done regardless of what happens tomorrow. I do expect he'll stay in the race for a while, and he may even pick up a state or two, but it's not even clear anymore what his message is, and the message that really motivates his support is really unavailable to him now because of the way things have come together. His votes won't go to anybody though - first of all because he won't leave the race, but also because his supporters will lose interest in a race between Kerry and Edwards or Kerry and Clark.

January 24, 2004

One-click   {Comments: 0}

Amazon now allows you to make campaign contributions through their website:

The Seattle, Washington-based retailer, which claims 37 million active accounts, said on its Web site that it is "trying to take the friction out of grassroots contributions to presidential candidates." For that reason, Amazon said it is not endorsing any candidates and is charging each campaign its usual processing fees for the payments, which it will donate to a non-profit, non-partisan civil group.

"For us, we think this is an interesting but natural extension of what we do every day," said Amazon spokesman Chris Bruzzo. "Our goal here was to make it as easy for people to make contributions to presidential campaigns as it is to buy the latest Harry Potter book."

I'm ambivalent about it. It's great in a lot of obvious ways. It puts the political process front and center for Amazon shoppers, which is a huge population. It probably creates a more coherent internet constituency, which has been lacking. It's brilliantly limited to $200, on the one hand helping to democratize the campaign contribution system, and on the other hand limiting the complexity of the system.

I want to point out how good this is for Amazon, which for me isn't necessarily a strike against it (although I know it will be for some). Their tabulation of contributions to Amazon will most likely become a key political indicator, which is a huge advertisement for them. They've demonstrated their willingness to mix commerce and technology with politics, which puts them in a revolutionary and progressive spot, but without all the fuss about whether votes can be hacked, bought, etc. And they're on the leading edge of something that could expand exponentially: is there any doubt that in two years they'll be managing contributions for US senators, and state senators after that? It's a natural extension of their one-stop shopping business model, but it has a huge potential and scores big with people all over the political spectrum.

I said I was ambivalent; what bothers me most is the way money is equated with political power, and the message that sends. Commodifying political contribtutions has all kinds of consequences - politics will be (even more than it already is) about marketing and advertising, about building a brand. The vote that's at the center of our democratic political system is suddenly abstracted - now political power is localized even more around the political dollar, and it's right in your face. This may be a good thing, but in the long run it will change our perception (and by our, I mean ordinary Americans) of the politcal system, and what motivates it.

The whole campaign finance reform battle is really about the central problem for our system, namely that democracy is about votes, while capitalism is about dollars. The wall we set up between them, even with its holes, has about the same moral force as our separation between church and state, and yet we see every election cycle how much energy even the sitting president is expending on gathering a campaign warchest. I see this as a fundamental flaw in our political system, and (cynically) one that's only greased by this country's high standard of living.

I'm not (at this point, anyway) advocating throwing the whole system out, but any commodification of campaign financing concenrns me, even if it has a democratizing effect. What we really need to be looking at is how disproportionate our political contributions are with the power of our individual votes, and what that means in a so-called democracy.

January 23, 2004

A new home   {Comments: 0}

This is cool: Frank Gehry is desiging the new arena for the Brooklyn Nets (formerly of New Jersey). I don't remember ever hearing about such a high profile architect designing a sports arena, but obviously it makes sense - it's certainly an important public space. I'm having a hard time, though, imagining how this will fit in downtown Brooklyn...

January 20, 2004

A noble hope, rarely met   {Comments: 1332}

Elaine Showalter responds to Terry Eagleton's new book:

The most serious drawbacks of After Theory are its internal contradictions - between an appeal to hard thinking and Eagleton's prejudice; between the call for depth and analysis and the temptation of superficiality and vilification; between the endorsement of disturbing complexity and the surrender to comfortable simplification.
For me these are the central critiques not only of Eagleton, but of the whole critical realist project. The perspective one needs to really investigate and comprehend others is the same perspective that "absolute truth, human essences, and virtue" deny. It's a forbidden fruit; you can't go back.
Boring speech   {Comments: 34}

I had a hard time even paying attention to Bush's speech, so that when he got to the end and hadn't talked about Mars, I wondered if I'd just missed it. I was really braced for a zinger of a speech, given some we've seen in the past and all the media buildup, but overall this was a pretty weak effort. The first bit - where he tried to address criticisms of the war in Iraq - seemed pretty effective, but the domestic policy was all fluff. Even the potentially substantive stuff, eg personal investment accounts to displace Social Security, seemed tired and recycled... certainly not visionary! And the good ideas from the past week or two, all the press leaks we've read about, were either watered down or absent. I definitely get the sense he's playing defense...

MORE: Dan Froomkin with a comprehensive list of what wasn't in the speech.

Short on staff officers   {Comments: 0}

If you go for the politics and implications of military organization, this is pretty interesting. It has some disturbing implications for Iraq after November.

January 19, 2004

What it all means   {Comments: 0}

A couple points about the caucuses. For obvious reasons, Kerry was the only one whose rhetoric escaped the context of the primary, but I wasn't terribly impressed with the message - he seemed almost afraid to attack Bush directly, and used the abstraction "special interests" far too many times. But he knew he was the frontrunner, and it will be interesting now to see how he wears that expectation into NH.

I see Gephardt's votes going to Edwards, but they won't help much in NH, where Edwards needs to at least show up - polling fourth would look bad, and I'm guessing that's where he appears in tomorrow's polls. I still think Clark missed an opportunity in Iowa, but the real question is how he does in NH, given all the free press Kerry had tonight. Bush may help with this tomorrow - if the State of the Union has folks forgetting about Iowa, Clark will benefit most.

I'm very interested in how the caucuses play abroad. Dean is essentially an anti-war candidate, and he really got trounced tonight. Does this mean Democrats favored the war? Daniel Drezner doesn't think so, but I'm still worried about what the international perception will be, and how this might affect intl cooperation with the Bush admin leading up to November. Kofi Annan's agreement to reengage on Iraq slipped quietly by tonight, but it would certainly seem to soften the Bush stance on Iraq.

And Drezner asks the other big question about Dean's loss here too: What does it mean for blogs - and political organization through the internet? When I've written about this before, folks have suggested that Dean has already changed the political landscape. But I wonder if future candidates will want to take this last minute disintegration as their template. It really depends on what actually happened tonight. Was it the attack ads that beat Dean? Or was it a matter of his difficult personality (some of the blame for which can be laid with the press)? Another possible explanation is that there's a backlash effect associated with having hordes of volunteers running around knocking on doors, pushing an agenda that folks in the middle just aren't ready to swallow... this explanation obviously wouldn't bode well for similar campaigns in the future. But in any case, Dean's campaign has managed to inject some real excitement into the political scene, and hopefully that will translate into a more engaged American electorate. And of course, he's not done yet!

MORE: Not that you'll have any trouble finding it, but there's more interesting analysis from Mark Kleiman here, and several good posts up by Ezra Klein (go on down the page). As promised, Matt Yglesias wrote a bunch over at TAPPED, but he also has this bizarre post up where he describes Bush and Gephardt as equivalent evils...

January 18, 2004

Making things up   {Comments: 0}

The New Yorker has a great feature on Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. What really caught my attention was the fact that all the dialogue in that show is improvised... maybe that should have been obvious? It sure fits in together now - the deliveries can be awkward, and people are always interrupting or talking over each other, typical of improvised performance. But in any case I'm seriously impressed, and it makes me wonder how many other TV programs have an improv element.

Handicapping the primaries   {Comments: 0}

Lots of people predicting tomorrow's results, which anyway have gotten a whole lot more fun to speculate on in the past week or so. A friend intimated yesterday that he thinks Dean may already be done, and I think there's a good chance he's right. Unless he completely obliterates the other candidates tomorrow, it'll look like he failed, and the other candidates can claim victory. I think Edwards has the most to gain here in terms of national attention, even if he's second or third (and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he polls on top). Any decent showing will make him competitive in NH, and he should hit his stride just in time for SC. The biggest loser is Clark, who really botched things by not even appearing in Iowa. George McGovern's endorsement is pretty pathetic as a consolation prize...

ALSO: Jesse of pandagon has an interesting concern about entrance polling and the particular way reporting can affect caucus results. And CNN/FindLaw has a good discussion of the merits of a caucus system.

Or something like it   {Comments: 2842}

My main space connection links to an article about Venus, complete with speculation about the possibilities for life there. Obviously the ideas are far-fetched, but I've always wondered why scientists expect alien life to look so much like us, ie carbon based, water reliant, etc. Yes, all life here shares certain features in common, but mightn't this just be a giant case of path dependency? Terrestrial life supposedly originated in the oceans, so it only makes sense that water should play a big role in it. But surely water isn't a necessary ingredient for adaptability, or for consciousness...

MORE: Here's a more plausible explanation (via Apothecary's Drawer) for those shiny hills. Of course, this species breathes iron instead of oxygen... so why not lead?

Change is good   {Comments: 0}

Just wanted to point out that I've added a set of rotating links over on the right (under girasol). Basically it's a miniblog with only links - sites or articles I don't really feel like writing a full post about, but which might nevertheless be worth a look.

January 15, 2004

Do unto others   {Comments: 0}

Lawrence Lessig on hitting America where it hurts: To combat American agricultural subsidies ("corporate welfare par excellence"), Lessig says developing counties should adopt American intellectual property laws from the 18th century and hold Hollywood hostage. It makes sense... if the US is going to subsidize where the developing world has a comparative advantage, shouldn't the developing world to do the same?

Piano radicalism   {Comments: 0}

There's a new Glenn Gould biography out, reviewed (as you might expect) in the Globe and Mail:

Bazzana is especially clever in focusing on Gould's early life, growing up in Toronto's Beach district, for two reasons. One is that Gould was so precocious that almost his entire musical and artistic being was formed by the time he was 14 or 15, that is by 1946 or 1947, and changed little after that. That's basically why, we now understand, Gould could be so forward looking and so backward looking at the same time, a radical musical mind that was fixated on the standard repertoire of classical music, a champion of the avant-garde of the 1930s who hated the avant-garde of the 60s. Gould stopped developing in many ways before 1950 and this insight alone explains much of what has previously seemed inexplicable in his life.
Sounds like it will be worth a look, at least... but I have to say, I too find the avant-garde music of the 30s a lot more compelling than that of the 60s, and it's not because I reached maturity in the 50s!
Cool beans   {Comments: 0}

Tuesday I went to this panel discussion on fair trade coffee, and I came away somewhat conflicted about the issue. It's obviously a good thing producers - they're getting paid more, thanks to the elimination of the middle man. I will say that I never heard anything about how much these folks are being paid, beyond the compensation being a "living wage" - but the long waiting list to get certified sounds like a ringing approval.

Sales aren't bad in the United States, and it was a real piece of marketing genius to pump up the price consumers will pay by building social consciousness. Consumers have basically been convinced to pay a voluntary subsidy to farmers in a faraway country to which they've almost certainly never been. As long as people are willing to pay for this, they're doing a great service to producers affiliated with the program, and that's something to be happy about.

But it's these same kinds of socially conscious ideologies that really disturb me. There's a tremendous amount of built-in hypocrisy in these arguments, and many of the attacks are downright irrational. Coffee producers in Vietnam are demonized because they sell poor quality coffee that's not grown in the most environmentally responsible way. The suggestion that unprofitable coffee producers simply grow something else is greeted with contempt - they've been growing coffee for hundreds of years, and switching to something else would force them to change their culture. But at the same time, the fair trade program requires them to make their farming practices more environmentally responsible and stop using child labor. As right minded as these changes may be, surely they too constitute a cultural change...

The problem here is that the notion of actually helping these people get where they want to be is getting mixed up with the mechanics of a particular consumer product and its market in the United States/Canada/wherever. Fair trade coffee, with its unmistakable logo and quaint packaging, is for rich, guilty liberals who self-identify as socially conscious. A backwards people who grow coffee as they have for hundreds of years, but with a care for the environment and their children's upbringing - this is just the kind of heady stuff I want to be thinking as I'm drinking.

But the real problems are bigger, institutional problems - problems that won't be fixed by what's essentially a workaround for a few lucky coffee producers. Don't get me wrong, I think fair trade coffee is a decidedly good thing. I just think we should be even more worried about things like eliminating agricultural subsidies in OECD countries, reinforcing third world rule of law and judicial structures, and building a legitimate middle class everywhere. These are things that can't be accomplished by fair trade, and will likely be hindered by the smug, simplistic ideologies that motivate it.

January 12, 2004

The economics of engagement   {Comments: 0}

Interesting story from one of my classes, although I'm having trouble sifting through all the propaganda to confirm it online. Apparently engagement rings - the ones with the big rocks - are a relatively recent phenomenon. In the early part of the 20th century, engagements were inititated with nothing more than a promise - one with the force of law, thanks to breach of promise statutes in most states. Since so many people were having sex during their engagements, and since sex tended to degrade a woman's ability to find another mate more than a man's, these laws served to protect women during the engagement period.

The system fell apart when states started striking down the breach of promise statutes in the 1940s and 50s - so to replace the law, engagement rings gained popularity. From an economic standpoint, they create a disincentive to renege on a marriage promise, as well as a form of compensation for the woman's - how to put this? - depreciation, should the man opt out before the ceremony but after the deed. No doubt some economist at the University of Chicago is busy using this information to calculate the market value of a woman's honor...

Apply within   {Comments: 3}

Several different sites (Calpundit, A Fistful of Euros, Frolic) linked to this business about a rise in applications for disability benefits somehow masking the true unemployment rate. It's definitely the case that more people apply for disability benefits as the employment situation worsens (I can tell you this from experience, since I used to work for the Social Security Administration), but unless the government is somehow approving more applications - which is highly doubtful - it's hard to see how this would pollute the employment numbers. Even if you want to argue that people recieving disability benefits should be counted as unemployed, that fact that they're not wouldn't hide anything, since our only point of reference is past statistics, calculated the same way.

The interesting question to me is whether folks who are in the chute (a grueling 6-9 month process exacerbated by the federal government's use of underpaid state contractors to decide medical facts) are counted as disabled or not, since the government requires applicants to be unemployed while their applications are considered.

January 11, 2004

Sin exemption   {Comments: 6}

Can anybody explain why this SUV exemption for business owners isn't a bigger story? I discovered it through Marcia Ellen, who along with most of the press I can find is from AZ.

Section 179 of the federal tax code allows businesses such as partnerships, sole proprietorships and corporations to accelerate the depreciation of certain business equipment. Vans, trucks and sport utility vehicles that weigh more than 6,000 pounds when carrying their maximum recommended passengers and cargo can be substantially depreciated in the first year of service instead of over the typical five years.

The list of vehicles that meet the 6,000-pound threshold includes the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition and Excursion, Hummer H1 and H2 and others. The buyers aren't just small-business people and farmers. Many are doctors, lawyers and real estate agents.

Note that this revision of the tax code was part of the most recent round of Bush tax cuts. You can read about (among other things) the administration's careful vetting process for those cuts here.
You call it noise   {Comments: 1605}

Here's a short writeup of the coming John Cage festival. Cage was the master of aleatoric music - music that makes specific use of random elements, sometimes via improvisation, sometimes from the performance environment. His most famous work, 4'33", made it onto this interesting list the other day. Cage always reminds me of Marcel Duchamp, the great originator of conceptual art.

Soupe à l’oignon   {Comments: 4}

Did a nice, relatively light, vegetarian onion soup last night - not quite as rich as the classic beefstock-fortified version with half a pound of melted gruyere, but that may well be a good thing. This one is quite sweet, depending on your onions. If necessary, you can use small amounts of sugar or vinegar to correct the flavor early on in the caramelizing process.

1/2 stick butter
3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons flour
3 glasses of white wine (as you would drink)
2 tall glasses of water
a dozen or so baguette slices
some shredded gruyere or other swiss

1. Melt the butter in a large nonstick pan. Best to cut it up first, and use high heat.

2. Just as the butter melts completely, add the sliced onions. Saute (still on high heat), making sure they don't burn.

3. As the onions are going, put the wine in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Just as it starts to boil, take it off the heat. In a larger saucepan bring the water to a boil. Toast the flour in the oven until it's very lightly colored, for maybe 5 minutes at 200C/400F.

4. Once the onions are limp and translucent, add some salt, maybe 1/2 teaspoon or even more. Also pepper as you like. Keep stirring, but just enough to keep the onions from burning (you want to give them time to caramelize before you turn them). Turn the heat down a bit if necessary. Overall you should spend about half an hour caramelizing the onions (the longer you spend, the darker the onions - and the stronger the flavor).

5. Lower the heat and stir in the flour. Add the wine and then the boiling water a bit at a time, stirring carefully. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until you like the consistency.

6. Put the baguette slices on a cookie sheet, with a little pile of gruyere on each slice. Toast them in the oven for maybe ten minutes at 200C/400F, just until the cheese starts to brown. Add a slice or two to each bowl of soup, and some pepper. Serves 4.

I'll probably be posting more complete recipes here from time to time, partly to satisfy one reader's request, but also just to break up the political economy of the monotonous. Hope you enjoy them. This one was adapted from a remaindered Raymond Blanc cookbook I picked up at the local used bookstore.
January 8, 2004

To boldly go   {Comments: 5}

This has tremendous potential:

President Bush next week will announce a sweeping space plan that includes new manned missions to the moon and Mars, sources told United Press International.
But of course, it will have to be unilateral:
The president's plan also calls for retiring the aging fleet of space shuttles and gradually withdrawing from participation in the International Space Station, sources said.
This has been a banner week for Bush. His new immigration policy is a political coup, and this new announcement has the potential to create a new sense of national pride and optimism in the United States. I think as a high tech national project, going to Mars is a close second to developing fusion power, and fusion power isn't quite as timely (or shiny).

I do think it can turn into a fiasco - certainly withdrawing from the space station seems like a mistake, and the whole thing may well get swept under the rug like last year's AIDS pronouncements. But for now at least, I'm excited.

Political geography   {Comments: 3}

Poliblog (via Brett Marston) has an analysis of the Texas redistricting (he thinks it's legal) and comes to this conclusion:

I am increasingly of the opinion that an entirely different system of districting needs to be developed that would do away with conscious partisan districtcraft, and would lead to more competitive elections.
The problem is, there's no way to do this without restricting people's freedom to move and reproduce - at least, not if you want each rep to represent roughly the same number of people. As long as a person is making the decision, there's going to be a political element to the decision - and our system now leaves that process in the open. The framers knew this would be a political process, which is why they created specific rules to govern the process - state legislatures are responsible, it only takes place every 10 years (after the constitutionally mandated census), etc.

The specific problem in Texas seems to have resulted from a situation that arguably isn't governed by those rules - which is precisely why it's turned into such a partisan mess. I'm not sure how to deal with that problem - for more specific guidelines to have weight, would they have to be written into the Consistution?

Here are the oral arguments (a PDF, via DJWInfo) from a US Supreme Court case last month, well worth a quick look. The jurists ask fascinating questions about the nature of voting institutions, etc.

Teaching the Gospel   {Comments: 2272}

Dean compares Jerry Falwell to the pharisees, and Ezra Klein is ready to listen:

I've been waiting a long time for liberals to take back religion. And I mean take it back, not neutralize it. I've said before that Democrats talk like atheists but tax like Christians, and it is about time that we started telling people that the message of Christ was care and compassion for the poor and downtrodden of society. Bush is a lot of things, but he is certainly not a philosophical descendant of the man who washed the feet of lepers and ejected the money chambers from the temple.
I have my doubts about whether Dean can actually pull off this spotlight conversion, but if he wants to take a run at the Christian vote, more power to him. Christ was a communist, after all! And Dean has that certain quality to him - I think he would have made a hell of a preacher.
January 7, 2004

Perpetuating inequality   {Comments: 0}

PG, Greg at Begging to Differ, and Will Baude all dissect the problem of legacy admissions, with Will taking on the crucial matter of university fundraising. Not much to add to the discussion, except to point out that these kinds of legacy systems seem particularly inappropriate for a public school like Texas A&M. Isn't one of the main ends of a public university to make education available for everybody? An uneven playing field in the private system may be disgusting, but I can accept it because it's private. In the public sphere, it should be criminal.

January 6, 2004

Dean's visionary side   {Comments: 4}

Nathan Newman links to a Kos post that predicts Dean will crush Bush in November, based on figures from Dean Meetups, especially in swing states. I think this analysis is wrong. Dean will have a hard time shedding his image as a liberal/anti-war candidate - and having hundreds of thousands of devoted liberal/anti-war acolytes probably won't help, even (especially?) in swing states. To win there, he'll need to be a visionary and a conciliator.

Of course, I'd be glad to be mistaken on this, and not just because Bush would be out. Dean has run a truly visionary campaign in terms of organization and technology, the kind of campaign that has the potential to change the way our democracy works, and - to all appearances - for the better. It's engaged the public, it's gotten people involved in the political process. And it's tipped the model for fundraising toward individuals with more typical funds - even my starving artist friend in Oaxaca gave $10. At this point, Dean's probably had enough success that his campaign model will be back even if he's not. But a win in November would transform the whole landscape of political organization.

Xenophobic exaggerations   {Comments: 7}

Randy Paul, just back from Brazil, has some perspective on the Brazilian order to fingerprint visiting Americans. I have to admit the concerns about potential damage to Brazilian tourism in the summertime took me by surprise... I guess it's just another sign of the tremendous power the US has in acting unilaterally, and the corresponding resentment it can (and should) elicit.

By the way, it's still not clear to me why citizens of some countries don't have to be fingerprinted, and how they chose which countries are which. Surely we're more likely to see terrorists bearing legitimate British or French passports than Brazilian.

January 5, 2004

Ten uniques   {Comments: 2}

Check out this provocative list of 10 unique works of art (they're not really billed as the most unique, but perhaps only because that would be a misuse (arguably) of the superlative). I myself hadn't heard of all of them, but the ones I know certainly seem to fit in. I was most excited to see Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and I'm most freshly motivated to go find a copy of Marienbad.

Rumors and reports   {Comments: 1}

Here's a good roundup on the Saddam Hussein wasn't captured by Americans speculation - it finally seems to be getting into the mainstream press, but for some reason I'm not reading much about it in blogs. The link comes from stAllio!, who's been watching the story closely... he also points out a rather disturbing story about al Qaeda's new secret weapon.

January 4, 2004

More on Terry Eagleton   {Comments: 1}

More on the demise of cultural theory. As sympathetic as I am with his political agenda, I'm not sure Terry Eagleton is really the right one to be making an announcement like this. He's always been a committed Marxist critic, which means his relationship to the kind of poststructuralist theory that's really at stake here is tenuous. Marxist criticism would seem to have much to gain from a realignment along the "fundamental questions of truth and love in order to meet the urgencies of our global situation." Aren't the issues of revolution, evil, death, and suffering the perfect medium for his Marxist agenda? Today ought to be his theoretical heyday.

I myself am not yet willing to give up some of the frameworks critical theory affords. While it's true that the cultural theorizing of recent years has failed in many respects, there is a lot more to theory than cultural revisionism. At its best, poststructuralist criticism is about a multiplicity of perspectives - and an aesthetics of the space between those perspectives. What could be more relevant to the world of today?

People seem especially concerned with critical theory's inability to look evil in the face. But simply accepting evil as an explanation for what we can't understand, the cause for what we're not willing to accept as human - this is intellectual cowardice. Critical theory may not be particularly comforting in the sense of validating our own actions and perspectives; but it provides an analytical framework that makes it possible to honestly investigate the culture we encounter. It's a tool that shouldn't be abandoned.

Culinary xs   {Comments: 3}

Balasubramani has the menu up for a dinner party he's putting together, and I'm hoping he'll put up the recipes since I'm a big fan of this kind of South Indian fare (although I have to second BigOldGeek's warning about ordering thalis). My friend John and I throw dinner parties occasionally too, and taking B's lead I'm going to try and be more conscientious about posting the menus etc here. Lately I'm obsessed with doing some French food, maybe out of nostalgia for Montreal? I usually make it up there in December or January, but no such luck this year. C'est dommage!

Commence official interplanetary exploration   {Comments: 0}

Still no word from Beagle 2, but the Spirit rover is apparently down safely. Now to find that water!

If all the botched missions to Mars in recent years seem frustrating, check out this history of disastrous missions to Venus by the Soviet planetary exploration program. Unable to achieve the necessary trajectory? Ultimately though, even the Soviets were pretty successful.

MORE: Matt Yglesias is concerned that we're wasting our time with exploration of outer space. But the missions to Mars he seems to disapprove of are tremendously important! There are of course the usual pragmatic reasons for space exploration - technological advancement, scientific discovery... but if you're at all interested in the place human beings occupy in the universe (and I would expect Matt to be, with his philosophy degree) then the questions these particular missions get at are absolutely pivotal. If these missions turn up evidence of life, past or present, our understanding of the universe and our place in it will be completely transformed.

January 1, 2004

Even believed to have magical powers   {Comments: 6}

If you like bagels, this mouth watering feature in the Times is worth a look. I've never eaten a New york bagel myself, but I have been lucky enough to have one (actually more than one) from St-Viatur in Montreal, a city with its own claims when it comes to bagels. Montreal's bagels are a bit sweeter than your typical offering, but I nevertheless remember one with poppy seeds as the best I've ever had.

While we're on the subject, can anybody point me in the direction of a good Chicago bagel? One of these days I'm going to get up to Skokie and have a look around... should I just case the neighborhood until I spot something with "New York" in the title?

MORE: Gary Farber explains the difference between Nova and lox.

The lion tamer   {Comments: 0}

Marxist critic Terry Eagleton has apparently given up on theory. It's an ironic development for anyone who, like me, had to read his book as an introductory critical theory text, but it does seem to fit in with this phenomenon.

Felice Anno Nuovo!   {Comments: 1}

Happy New Year everyone! For me the year brings new hope and possibility; may the same be true for you.

And congratulations to my sister and her new fiance - Jackie just flew back to Italy on Tuesday (where hopefully she'll start blogging again), and her boyfriend Antonello proposed at midnight in Macerata. Congratulations to them both!