February 26, 2004

The aura of election   {Comments: 0}

I've been wondering where this alleged pickup line of Harold Bloom's comes from. Presumably it's a literary reference (I'd be hugely disappointed in Bloom if it weren't), but there isn't much to go by on the internet. A Google search for the phrase only comes up with one instance, from John Howard Yoder, who in all likelihood also refers to a previous source.

Interestingly, Naomi Wolf has used the phrase before, in her book Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood (1997):

I had heard some rumors about his way of relating to certain of his female students, but there were rumors about half a dozen teachers on campus. Sometimes, when one young woman who had taken the professor's course was introduced to another, she would say, in a deep, slow, ironic voice, "You have the aura of election upon you." It was the code.
Apparently the book (which I haven't read — this quote comes via Amazon) is mostly memoir; the above passage comes from such a section. It doesn't clearly support these latest allegations, but Wolf certainly had something in mind when she wrote those words, something she meant us to read as deeply personal. To me, it has the aura of plausibility upon it: this is the way authors talk about themselves.
February 25, 2004

The army of unalterable law   {Comments: 0}

I'd heard it was violent, but this is ridiculous. I may not have the emotional involvement this woman had, but I'm sure as hell not going to see it now...

Fixing Social Security   {Comments: 243}

PG takes issue with Alan Greenspan's recommendations on Social Security. Specifically, she's concerned about the idea of changing the CPI calculation and indexing the retirement age to the life expectancy. We agree in principle, but I have several caveats and elaborations.

Despite having worked for SSA for 3 years, I don't know much about how the CPI is computed. My impression is that it's already a pretty lean number compared to inflation; my cost of living salary increases, for instance, were always significantly higher than what Social Security recipients received. But if you're going to fix the system, benefits are going to have to be reduced, and this is a reasonably painless way of doing that, from a political standpoint. The obvious drawback is that it affects all beneficiaries equally.

Indexing the retirement age to life expectancy seems like a particularly bad idea, for the same reason that indexing benefit increases to inflation is so messy: there are different expert views on what the life expectancy is. But again, raising the full retirement age is pretty much unavoidable if you still want people to have a benefit that will keep them out of poverty and not bankrupt the country. The argument that somehow a privileged guy like Greenspan doesn't understand how old old is just doesn't fly... it's a fact that life expectancies are increasing, and that people are able to work longer. My experience at Social Security was that all different kinds of people worked beyond full retirement age, not just those with cushy office jobs like Mr. Greenspan.

PG also talks about the concern that if you make Social Security more welfare-like, people will be forced to sell off their assets to qualify. I'm not so concerned about people selling off their assets, but there are serious questions about how to link a Social Security benefit to need. Many people aren't aware of this, but there's already a significant cushion in the Social Security benefit computation for those with fewer earnings over their lifetime; in that sense, Social Security is already welfare-like. But adding a means test at retirement (or every year thereafter) would create incentives for workers not to save over their careers. Is this what we want? Americans already have difficulty saving...

I am totally in favor of increasing the cap on what earnings are taxed under Social Security, and I'd even support tax credits for those at the bottom. But simply changing the cap won't solve the problem. Almost nobody in this country has more than $200k/year in wages... it just doesn't happen. By the time you're making that much, it's not being paid as wages anymore, because income tax law has created incentives to pay that income in different ways (stock options, retirement plans, etc). So, while raising or eliminating the cap would help a little , it wouldn't get at the really rich, most of whose income is non-wage. Esentially it would place the whole burden on the upper middle class, and create more incentives to receive income through alternate means.

My own observation is that Mr. Greenspan is right: we need to fix Social Security now. It may be hard for politicians to talk about this, but Greenspan holds a position much harder to assail (unless you're Al Sharpton), and it's the responsible thing to be talking about. I applaud him for speaking out. I don't much care for the private accounts idea, but we are at the point where the program as it exists can't continue, and we need to do some serious thinking. We either have to cut benefits across the board, or we have to begin reimagining the most successful social program in history.

February 24, 2004

How to write   {Comments: 0}

Elmore Leonard has some suggestions on how to improve your writing. Some rules are useful, others are not. It's an aesthetic that keeps the narrator invisible, for the sake of advancing the plot. Leonard has the reader's interests in mind, and a narrowly defined reader at that: the person who reads to be stimulated, entertained (the moviegoer). I wouldn't call it bad advice, but it doesn't exactly encourage literary authorship. I say, challenge your readers.

Pick your poison   {Comments: 0}

Check out the New Yorker's review/discussion of Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice: it's about as informative as the book, and a whole lot shorter. The book kind of bored me with its tedious examples and pop-psych diagnoses. But the question of how choice weighs on us/buoys us cuts to the heart of what it means to be both a capitalist and a small d democrat. The central insight (and the economic thinking that backs it up) that too much choice can paralyze, even hinder us should be a wake up call. Too many Americans accept as fundamental truth the equation of choice with moral authority and personal utility.

February 23, 2004

On third parties   {Comments: 444}

Obviously Nader's decision to run isn't good news for the Dems, but i don't understand why people are so indignant that someone should want to promote political ideas through the electoral process. That's called democracy. If Nader really thinks his views are qualitatively different from what's out there (and right or wrong, they are), then there's no reason he shouldn't run to support them.

Parties have to deal with splinter groups all the time. Had Gore eked out a win 2000, the Republicans would've had their own whipping boy in Pat Buchanan. But today Buchanan is one of the administration's fiercest critics on foreign policy, and he's right...

Some perspective is needed here, too: Nader has no chance to affect 2004. The Democratic faithful are engaged, turning out to primaries in record numbers; the president's policies are demonstrably disastrous, not just ominous and vague. Nader's most compelling message in 2000 — that the two major parties were the same — doesn't have the same punch after Bush.

February 22, 2004

Depressing stuff   {Comments: 0}

The Pentagon apparently has a clue about global climate change, but it's interesting that the article describes the report as a political surprise. The argument isn't for action on the environmental front, but for a strengthened military to protect the borders, maintain order, provide nuclear deterrent — all hot button funding issues for the Pentagon. I'm thrilled if this draws attention to Bush administration hypocrisy or the ravaged environment, but I'm certainly not prepared to take the report at face value...

A push in the center   {Comments: 0}

Liberal Oasis (via apostropher) has an interesting reading of Gavin Newsome's move to issue marriage certificates to everybody in San Francisco. The idea is that this issue will play well nationally 10 years down the road, and that Newsome's immediate political goals — consolidating support on the left — therefore aren't at odds with a national political future.

I agree that Newsome looks smart here, but the real reason is that he's put different issues on the table, issues much easier for Democrats to deal with. All of a sudden, it's not a question of whether we should allow gay marriage, but whether we should prevent it. This forces opponents to attack (rather than preempt), and it puts a human face on what they're attacking. This is key, because while a majority of Americans probably don't like the idea of gay marriage, a majority of Americans are not mean spirited and hateful.

Newsome's move also takes the attention off the courts, nullifying the conservative argument that somehow activist courts have hijacked the issue. Newsome is an elected official, answerable to the voters and directly responsible for policy. What happens when the people of San Francisco reelect him? What about the rights of local governments?

I've argued before that this this a great issue for Democrats, and I'm even more convinced of it now... it makes the Republicans look bigoted and intolerant, divides their caucus (conservatives vs libertarians), and politically engages younger voters on the Democratic side. If they're smart, the Republicans will drop the issue for 2004 and let the states decide. If not, Gavin Newsome has perfectly framed the debate...

Molecular gastronomy   {Comments: 0}

Here's a cute article about a French food scientist and his theories. Unfortunately there isn't much to demystify "tobacco-flavored ice cream made with liquid nitrogen and sardines on sorbet toast" or the novel combination of caviar and chocolate... I guess I'll have to wait for the translation of his book?

By the way, despite what I may have said about group blogs in the recent past, I've started blogging occasionally over at Too Many Chefs — about food, obviously!

February 20, 2004

Ruin the sacred truths   {Comments: 0}

High literary scandal: Naomi Wolf is apparently accusing Harold Bloom of sexual harassment in an article to appear Monday. If the allegations are serious, this is a tragedy. Bloom is brilliant, a real national treasure...

Technology & society   {Comments: 0}

I just rediscovered Bryan Pfaffenberger's blog on voting rights and technology. He hasn't been updating all that frequently, but there are some informed posts on the Diebold and other voting machines... definitely worth a visit.

February 19, 2004

The wrong relationship   {Comments: 134}

languagehat links to this great story about the semicolon that let hundreds more couples get married in San Francisco. Amazingly, the article itself doesn't contain a single semicolon (except for the quoted one, which was improperly used anyway). This reminded me of the copy desk at my college newspaper. The copy editors had standing orders to edit away all semicolons under the logic that they were so difficult to use that anybody using one had to be in error. As the opinion editor, I fought them endlessly; at the time, semicolons seemed vitally important for coherent expression. But these days, I hardly ever use them...

MORE: Venkat demands some usage guidance; I guess I have to capitulate? Semicolons separate clauses with similar meaning or weight; what comes before the semicolon should approximate what comes after it. But the precise relationship between the two isn't specified; the second clause can function to elaborate, comment, or simply restate the first.

Trade, outsourcing, and Republican constituencies   {Comments: 208}

Via Daniel Drezner, Matt Yglesias's intriguing suggestion that maybe the Democrats and the GOP are slowly trading places on trade policy. There's a lot to this. Interestingly, the polls numbers Matt quotes suggest that maybe global consciousness is relevant to the pro-trade constituency.

But what nobody's mentioned so far is the latest round of tech outsourcing to India. This hits a very particular group of American workers, and my sense is that they are more conservative than not, especially on issues relating to money. These are Matt's college educated white married men (+10), the Republicans who like trade the most. Won't that change as jobs in tech sectors begin moving to India? I'm guessing this phenomenon will feed right into the sea change Matt's talking about, bringing about a political alliance between blue and white collar constituencies...

February 18, 2004

A different business model   {Comments: 0}

Here's an interesting article about open source as a model in other contexts besides software - soft drink formulae, the Wikipedia, etc. I was surpsised to see that blogs weren't mentioned - to me, there's deifnitely a structural similarity between the way these open-source projects operate and the way in which the blogosphere (and here I'm talking specifically about the political side of things, which I know best) aggregates and audits information. You might say that blogs operate with the traditional media as a sort of substratum, but that's arguably true of the Wikipedia too (historical fact?), and even open-source soft drink recipes, which rely on a taste that exists in the cultural conception.

Another place I see the open source concept as relevant is with specifically creative content. The music industry obviously has a closed source problem right now, and distributors are going to fight to the death to keep their role. But even once they're gone (and my assumption is that they'll go - distribution and publicity are increasingly irrelevant), artists who have a strong proprietary streak will have the same problems to deal with. The property rights associated with artistic or otherwise creative work are at the root of the problem here - technology has made it so that laws can't protect them without infringing on the speech rights of the public.

Ultimately, this will resolve itself into a complete deprofessionalization of the arts, and I see the open source culture (not so much the model, although large scale artistic collaboration will probably be a side effect) as a way of turning that effect. Art becomes more public, and creativity acquires a more communitarian outlook. It's not my usual economic take, but economic thinking doesn't exactly explain the current open source phenomenon, either. Could open source be an implicit rejection of capitalism?

Flowers die, and so must I   {Comments: 0}

You might think a Bush win in November would be the end of the world, but according to some scientists, the world will last until about three months before the end of the universe:

This version of doomsday would start slowly. Then, billions of years from now, as phantom energy increased its push and the cosmic expansion accelerated, more and more galaxies would start to disappear from the sky as their speeds reached the speed of light.

But things would not stop there. Some billions of years from now, depending on the exact value of w, the phantom force from the phantom energy will be enough to overcome gravity and break up clusters of galaxies. That will happen about a billion years before the Big Rip itself.

After that the apocalypse speeds up. About 900 million years later, about 60 million years before the end, our own Milky Way galaxy will be torn apart. Three months before the rip, the solar system will fly apart. The Earth will explode when there is half an hour left on the cosmic clock.

The last item on Dr. Caldwell's doomsday agenda is the dissolution of atoms, a tenth of a billionth of a billionth of a second before the Big Rip ends everything.

Dr. Caldwell's doomsday agenda? There's gotta be a Jerry Bruckheimer film in there somewhere. But actually the article lists this as only one possible cosmic demise - exactly which one we get depends on the constant w, whose value is somewhere between -0.8 and -1.25.

MORE: Speaking of scientists, this has to be pretty embarassing...

Objects in mirror   {Comments: 0}

Ezra writes about a juicy possibility if you're an Edwards supporter. I'm not sure how likely a Dean endorsement is (we'll know soon enough), but following on the heels of key endorsements from apostropher and Froz Gobo, it might just make Edwards into a contender. Think about the press reaction...

Dean's future   {Comments: 0}

Last night's results were the nails in Dean's coffin, but he has yet to fall on his sword. Chris Sullentrop over at Slate thinks Dean will transform his campaign into a PAC in order to retain some influence on the political process, and on the face of it, this doesn't seem like a bad idea. Problem is, Dean's movement, strong as it has been from the perspective of grassroots organization and internet innovation, doesn't have any real content. The policies Dean's put forward aren't exactly groundbreaking - they don't have the force for true believers that a Kucinich can claim.

What's driven the Dean campaign is the message, along with an inspired organizational model. The message, in a somewhat more calculating form, is everywhere now, so it's not very useful as an outside political lever. The internet campaign strategy might be even more lasting, but somehow I don't see Dean starting a thinktank on political organization or a campaign consultancy. He probably wasn't the evil genius behind all that stuff anyway...

UPDATE: More on this from Matt Bai.

February 17, 2004

Executive Order 12291   {Comments: 0}

On this day in 1981, President Reagan signed Executive Order 12291, which called for federal agencies to perform a benefit-cost analysis (otherwise known as cost-benefit analysis) for all regulations, and to issue the regulations only of the benefits outweighed the costs. Incredibly, there was no dispensation for factors that couldn't be easily quantified monetarily - that aspect was introduced in a later executive order by Clinton.

There's not a lot of material floating around on the large scale effects BCA has had on the way our government operates (here's an intro from Cato), but I think the operative notion here was that efficiency should trump fairness. So, questions about how wealth is distributed in a given regulatory scheme are of no consequence under BCA. Also, laws which can't be efficiently enforced are simply not enforced, which can be a serious problem when you have regulatory agencies facing off with massive moneyed interests.

The strong justification for decreased regulation is that these interests inevitably co-opt the agencies that regulate them through the money side of the political process. Under this view, an order that requires regulations to be efficient should reduce political influence across the board. However, it does not appear that 12291 has brought about such a result.

February 16, 2004

Routine and degenerate   {Comments: 0}

Two articles about orthodoxy: the first addresses the problem of set economic thinking, which is a surprising problem to be dealing with in a field so young and full of transformative discovery. I'm obviously no economist, but I sometimes have great difficulty giving up some economic notions, even when they pose major problems for coherent analysis. A couple weeks ago I was going down with the ship on the question of rationality in voting behavior: I found myself trying half a dozen workarounds to explain why rational thinking was still at the base of an apparently irrational behavior - until I realized that the whole point of taking rationality as a point of departure was to construct a revealing model. In this particular case, clinging to rationality as a baseline behavior was irrational.

The second article is about adjectives... blossoming writers have always been nudged away from adjectives, since nouns and especially verbs are where it's at. But Ben Yagoda takes a second look at adjectives, and he likes what he sees - the article ends up being a kind of pleased taxonomy of descriptive usage, with plenty of close examples. I'm not a big adjective user myself - the paragraph above for instance has only a couple examples of unnecessary adjectives, and the necessary ones are pretty pedestrian. Did the adademy steer me away from them? If so, maybe I can blame them for my insidious use of filler adverbs...

I should mention that the article on ossified economic thinking comes via the valuable filter Political Theory Daily Review, which I have added to the links at right.

Sweet   {Comments: 2982}

The Economist (in a subscription article, unfortunately) mentions the beginnings of a lobby of sugar users, with specific reference to the candy woes here in Chicago:

A lobby of sugar users is at last starting to stand up for itself: after all, businesses are closing in Chicago, the sweet-making centre of America, if not the world, because of high sugar prices. A growing chorus of congressmen, including Senators Rick Santorum, Peter Fitzgerald and Charles Grassley, now dares to complain about sugar protectionism.
Sugar users have always had a hard time organizing since they include just about everybody without a medical condition. But when sugar prices start to take their toll in a targeted way, as they did for the sweet lady who used to sell candy in the Fannie May shop down the street from me, people are going to start standing up for their interests. I doubt they'll be able to animate a real counterattack, but maybe we can at least have a discussion?

The story comes via kickAAS, a blog the Guardian started last year before the trade talks in Cancun to decry massive agricultural subsidies in the developed world. Lots of good stuff for the trade activist...

February 15, 2004

Blogophagy/blogglutinization   {Comments: 0}

It looks like En Banc has closed up shop, apparently against the wishes of some of the contributors. Obviously with a group blog like this there are technical (read: financial) questions to answer for the people running it, but it's fitting that a group of lawyers can't figure out how to wrap things up amicably...

By the way, I've been meaning to post pointing out that Venkat Balasubramani of balasubramani's mania has moved over to Begging to Differ, another group blog that was still functioning last I checked. I had been meaning to add BTD to the blogroll for some time and have finally done so.

I have to say though, I'm ambivalent about this blogglutinization phenom, maybe even highly skeptical. A big part of the draw to blogs, for me at least, is the singleness and clarity of voice they offer. For a blog with a particular subject matter or a particular ideology, there may be some profit in it... one stop shopping, and all that. But at the same time there's something nefariously corporate about all these mergers and acquisitions. Increasing returns to scale, maybe, but what's the currency?

And yet, and yet! I'm so fond of some of these group blogs, they can be so rich and dynamic. And here I am, at the moment, thinking seriously about not one, but two such enterprises...

Love as mental disease   {Comments: 0}

Leave it to the Economist to try to medically cure love:

That raises the question of whether it is possible to "treat" this romantic state clinically, as can be done with OCD. The parents of any love-besotted teenager might want to know the answer to that. Dr Fisher suggests it might, indeed, be possible to inhibit feelings of romantic love, but only at its early stages. OCD is characterised by low levels of a chemical called serotonin. Drugs such as Prozac work by keeping serotonin hanging around in the brain for longer than normal, so they might stave off romantic feelings. (This also means that people taking anti-depressants may be jeopardising their ability to fall in love.) But once romantic love begins in earnest, it is one of the strongest drives on Earth. Dr Fisher says it seems to be more powerful than hunger. A little serotonin would be unlikely to stifle it.
I love the idea of trying to "treat" love. I have an ongoing discussion with a good friend about the effects of Prozac et al on artistic production from those with marginal psychologies (eg witness the high proportion of manic-depressives among major 20th century poets). But this takes it a step further: not only can we suck the poetry out of you, we can suck the love out of you too. And it turns out we've been doing this for a while now! I knew Prozac had "sexual side effects", but I didn't realize it was because it prevents you from falling in love...
Lemon tart   {Comments: 0}

I'm going to try to reproduce the lemon tart recipe from last night, but since the proportions were cobbled together on the fly from other recipes, I'm not sure how accurate they will be. The process was especially complicated by the fact that one of my recipe books uses weight measures rather than volume, and I don't have a scale. And since my oven seems to be very inaccurate (or at least inconsistent), you shouldn't rely too much on the cooking times...

For the crust/pate sucree:
2 cups flour
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
3 egg yolks
3/2 sticks butter
cold water

For the filling/curd:
3 whole eggs
4 additional egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup confectioners sugar
5 oz lemon juice
2 tbsp lemon zest

1. With a spatula, beat together 2 eggs, 1/4 cup icing sugar, and the 3/2 sticks of butter. They should be well mixed, but it's OK if you can see pockets of butter. Most of the recipes I've seen call for the butter to be at room temperature before you begin, but if you like your crust a little flaky, use cold butter (and put your back into it).

2. Add the 2 cups flour and mix with your fingers until you get a grainy texture (some of the dough may still be a little sticky). Add maybe a tablespoon of cold water and work the dough together into a ball as delicately as possible. If the dough is too sticky to work, add a bit of flour; if it's too dry, add a bit of water. Once the dough is in a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. In a bowl (or a pitcher if you have one), Whisk together all the ingredients for the curd except the cream. When they are well combined, add the cream and whisk some more.

4. Once the dough has rested, roll it out on a flour-dusted surface. The most important point here is not to stretch the dough as you lay it in the pan, so make sure you roll it big enough. Press the dough into the corners of the pan before you cut away the excess. This recipe should be enough for at least a 10" tart pan.

5. Use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the dough. Line the crust with a piece of aluminum foil and fill with rice/dried beans. Bake for about 10 minutes at 325F. Reduce the oven temp to 275F. Remove the foil and rice or beans, and bake the crust for another 10 minutes or so.

6. Just as the first hints of brown appear, or before if you like, brush the crust with the third egg yolk to seal it. After one more minute in the oven, pour the filling mixture into the crust. This is best accomplished without removing the crust from the oven rack; either way, make sure you don't spill any of the filling over the edges of the crust (or the pan).

7. Cook at 275 for 25 minutes or so. The filling will puff up slightly toward the outside of the crust, but shouldn't change colors. You can tell when it's done by gently jiggling the pan - if the filling in the center doesn't move, take it out.

8. If you like your lemon tart warm, let it cool for 20-30 minutes and serve. If you like it cold, refrigerate first.
Serves 8

Good luck! I'd be interested to know how complete the instructions for the pastry are - whether they're easy to follow, too simplistic or detailed, etc.
February 14, 2004

Coup de gras   {Comments: 30}

[see also: Coup de gras, revisited]

We're throwing a vday dinner party tonight. The mostly French menu:

Goat cheese, chutney, and pโt้ with French bread

Soupe เ l’oignon

Chicory salad with walnuts and Roquefort

Coq au vin OR baked herb crepes with spinach, mushrooms, and gruyere

Chocolate mousse OR lemon tarte

BigOldGeek is bringing the French bread, and the onion soup recipe is here. I was hoping for six courses, but this was about all we could swing. Maybe next year...

UPDATE: Why is it that every time we do this, we end up listening to Mozart's Requiem while we cook?

February 12, 2004

Shitstorm   {Comments: 0}

A couple quick observations about the John Kerry rumors flying around the blogosphere today. Right now this is almost entirely an internet phenomenon, and in the worst possible ways. So far there's been one report, hardly from a reliable source, and already the Democratic base is scared silly. Relax! At the moment there's less evidence of this than there is of Bush going AWOL, and the timing makes one wonder if maybe they're related. The Democratic frontrunner is bound to have enemies, especially when the nomination is all but assured.

Incidentally, even if there's something to this story, it wouldn't be the end of the world. The primaries are really just getting started, so there's plenty of time to switch gears. And lately sex scandals seem to have a way of making the accusers look as bad as the accused... the American people aren't exactly innocent when it comes to sex and politics!

Kerry related program activities   {Comments: 333}

I went to a Kerry campaign event here in Chicago last night, probably my first live campaign meeting ever. Next time I think I'll do Jessa Crispin's book group instead... I'm not really cut out for fundraising (ie sales) work, and that seemed to be all they were interested in. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by that, but my experiences with the Hart not-a-campaign were more organizational in nature. And by the way, these Kerry folks sure could use some better organization... I expected more from what's surely the most operational campaign going. Maybe Illinois just isn't that important to them?

The most ominous thing was the overwhelming whiteness of the volunteers. Especially in a place like Chicago, you don't expect all your Democrats to look the same. I hope it's not like that everywhere...

February 10, 2004

Now you're playing with power   {Comments: 0}

The Economist describes some of the international political machinations revolving around fusion research. The report is full of pessimism about the viability of fusion power from a strictly economic standpoint; in particular the concern is that the discount rate means fusion power just isn't valuable enough in the near term (the Economist uses the delightful term uneconomic). I find this argument bizarre... theoretically fusion represents a near infinite power source, which should negate the effects of the discount rate on net present value calculations, right? That the timeframe is on the order of a lifetime might deter corporations from investing, but shouldn't governments still be interested?

Meanwhile there was this story (re the Bush admin's moonbase plans) about mining the moon for Helium-3, which turns out to be the perfect fuel for fusion reactions since there are no radioactive biproducts. But talk about investing with the distant future! This would mean a permanent moonbase, god knows how many moonbased employees, and active shipping lines to and from. It would also mean strip mining the surface of the moon, which has its own disturbing sciencefictional overtones.

John Kerry for president   {Comments: 1828}

It looks like Kerry is the nominee. A big part of me is disappointed that we didn't get a good second look at Edwards (or even Clark), but I've been more and more impressed with Kerry in the past couple weeks. He's looking better, speaking better, and he presents a credible alternative to Bush on foreign policy. He'll have to fight the Massachusetts liberal label, but he'll have the advantage that it doesn't really fit him.

It's too bad though that this Guard service issue is such big news now — unless there's a powerful punchline, the whole issue will likely be forgotten by November, and it's probably Kerry's single best point of comparison with Bush.

MORE: I'm definitely sad to see Clark out of the race; there was a time (especially just before he decided to commit) when I was very excited about him. I think the big mistake was probably not skipping Iowa, as some have said, but waiting so long to decide about a run. Yes, with more time on his hands he could have done Iowa, but more imporantly I think he would have had time to get more comfortable being a candidate/politician, possibly with less attention.

If you haven't got your health   {Comments: 0}

Marginal Revolution has posted a chart showing the relationship between per capita GDP and public health (measured by child survival rate at age 5). The United States underperforms here, just like it does under almost any public health measure besides the health of the rich. Matthew Yglesias is surprised to see Tajikistan doing so well relative to its GDP, but actually all the former Soviet states besides Russia are overperforming... a pretty unmistakable pattern.

Race to the bottom   {Comments: 0}

Edward Hugh has a concerned post up about the euro, which nearly reached its all-time high with respect to the dollar today. While the dollar must keep falling to motivate growth in the US and help mitigate the enormous American current account deficit, the worry is that the euro won't be able to sustain such high values — values further distorted by the linking of some Asian currencies to the sinking dollar.

February 9, 2004

Hide and seek   {Comments: 0}

Via Milt's File, here's a another reframing the WMD issue in Iraq as a great move in getting other proliferators out in the open. I don't buy it as an after the fact justification for war — invade a country without weapons to get other countries to abandon theirs? And I have my doubts that it's even the primary motivator in Pakistan's newest revelations/admissions — surely the DPRK's nuclear program had more to do with that discovery. David Sanger's analysis makes more sense to me: paranoia over Iraq kept our eyes away from programs and proliferation in Libya, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and now maybe the Ukraine; the resulting intelligence failure is global.

February 8, 2004

Privilege   {Comments: 0}

Lots of bizarre stuff from Bush this morning, easy to rip apart, but DrFrankLives over at stinging-nettle has a good observation about the AWOL allegations and where that debate should go now:

What we have here is a man who has issued orders retaining Guard and Reserve soldiers beyond their service dates, and he just admitted that he "worked it out with the military" to leave the Guard early so he could go to Harvard Business School.

I have friends in the Guard and Reserve, friends with businesses, families, careers, educations - all on hold - because this man sent them to Iraq. Now they can't come home, and their tours have been extended beyond what any of them signed up for. But HE was able to get out early.

This hasn't exactly been a banner day for the folks over at the White House.
February 6, 2004

У прохожих на виду   {Comments: 3}

Today marks one year since my first post over at painpill. Not to boast, but I'm amazed I've been writing for this long; my history with commitments like this doesn't exactly recommend itself. A big part of the credit goes to you for reading and commenting, so thank you - I've enjoyed the discussion immensely. Here's to another year...

February 5, 2004

Rather unsubtle meaning   {Comments: 0}

I have to register my disappointment with the piece on Evo Morales over at Slate. It's great that they're doing these cosmopolitan dispatches ("Notes from different corners of the world"), but wouldn't it make more sense to write from an open perspective? I can only read the piece as smugly contemptuous of Evo and the MAS. There's no attempt to grapple with Bolivia in cultural or historical terms - it's just an ironic eye with an entirely American sensibility (this is not a good thing). An old post of mine continues the rant...

Al Sharpton and the GOP   {Comments: 0}

Several people have linked to this business about Al Sharpton's ties to Roger Stone and the implication that Sharpton is somehow giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I don't know why it is that people are so outraged by this, but I have a feeling it has less to do with the belief that Sharpton is working with the GOP (come on...) than the hatred mainstream Dems harbor for Ralph Nader, the patron saint of third party spoilers.

The problem is, how else to you expect a vocal minority to operate? I think it's pretty obvious to even the casual observer that the black vote is taken for granted by the Democratic party. Sure, there's a little attention paid during the primaries to which candidate will get black folks to the polls, but the perception at least is that there's zero chance that population will vote Republican.

The Voice makes Sharpton sound vengeful:

In his 2002 book, Al on America, Sharpton wrote that he felt the city's Democratic Party "had to be taught a lesson" in 2001 - insisting that Mark Green, who defeated the Sharpton-backed Fernando Ferrer in a bitter runoff, had disrespected him and minorities. Adding that the party "still has to be taught one nationally," he warned: "A lot of 2004 will be about what happened in New York in 2001. It's about dignity." In 2001, Sharpton engaged in a behind-the-scenes dialogue with campaign aides to Republican Mike Bloomberg while publicly disparaging Green.
But isn't this just how the political process works? Black voters have specific political interests, and at least some feel those interests aren't being addressed by the Democratic party. Sharpton's run (like Nader's, although I have less sympathy for his cause) is about drawing attention to his issues - issues that deserve attention. If the Democrats fail to respond (as they didn't with Nader) then of course voters will look elsewhere for representation.

To imply that this is somehow treasonous is really just presumption on the part of white liberals - it's about the simplistic (and racist) belief that somehow the Democrats know better than the Republicans what's best for blacks. The truth is, black voters' interests will find a home in the American political system, and if that helps the Republicans, Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves.

MORE: A post from Haggai on electability and insufferability, per this week's Kinsley.

The highest bidder   {Comments: 0}

Is there any explanation for why this now pardoned Pak scientist didn't try to peddle his wares in Iraq? There's no mention anywhere of Saddam, even though it's clear this sales program didn't have any qualms about dealing with psychopathic/homicidal buyers. Could it be that the regimen of UN sanctions and the resulting international attention on Iraq were actually working?

February 4, 2004

The dinner party   {Comments: 0}

The French are creating a new gourmet university, with the idea of bringing French cuisine back to the top of the heap (see this old post about today's innovators). Meanwhile Tyler Cowen is ready to blame "an overregulated French labor market and excessively high French taxes" for France's relative decline in the world of haute cuisine. Are market factors like these really driving culinary innovation at the highest levels? Maybe, but the artist in me hopes not.

February 2, 2004

Down to a science   {Comments: 0}

Here's an interesting article (via Will Baude and his econ prof) about the Patriots and 4th down. I'm not exactly a football enthusiast, but I did notice that fourth down play in the game against my hometown Colts two weeks back - that play led to the Patriots' only touchdown in the game, if I remember correctly. I have to say, I've often wondered why teams don't take advantage of the fourth down more often, it doesn't seem very American to waste a fourth of your offense on slowing down your opponent... reminds me a little of 19th century chess players who always took a gambit, rational calculation be damned.

Media as intermediary   {Comments: 0}

Balasubramani has a post up about the relationship between commentators (in the press) and the government - the kernel here is that government is an interested party and therefore can't be trusted as an impartial arbiter of truth in the public sphere.

What interests me about this notion, which apparently has some currency in American law, is that corporations also have interests, and those interests may also poison the movement of information to the public. How is it that corporations are trusted with this responsibility when the government is not? How did the right to freedom of speech extend beyond the individual to the corporation? And on the other side of the coin, how can the government legitimately regulate the media, given the argument above?