Friday, September 19, 2003


SUMMING IT ALL UP (courtesy of Matt Labash)
MILLIONS OF AMERICANS along the eastern seaboard are hunkered down in fear, weathering the effects and aftermath of Hurricane Isabel. Millions more are rending their garments, collapsing in sustained crying jags, and cursing their Maker over the untimely demises of John Ritter, Johnny Cash, and the Women's United Soccer Association. Still, amidst so much devastation, the fates have kindly given us a ray of hope, a candle in the darkness, a chocolate on our pillow. They have brought an end to the world's single most annoying couple: Jen and Ben. It seems like more than a fair trade.

EXTREME MAKEOVER. Big arm woman doesn't like it.


"TOO CLEVER BY HALF" That's what Julian Sanchez says of Bush and steel tariffs.
WaPo says that the administration's attempt to use steel tariffs ("safeguards" in the new doublespeak) to buy a few steel union votes has backfired. The union support isn't forthcoming, and the industries that use steel have been shedding jobs by the thousands as a result of higher costs. If there's anything worse than betraying your principles in a cynical and destructive attempt at political pandering, it's betraying your principles in a cynical and destructive attempt at political pandering that doesn't even work.

"My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state. We have the sons and daughters of every, of people from every planet, of every country on earth," he said.
I hear some folks in California want to recall this guy; can't imagine why.

ARRRHH! Don't ye landlubbers know what day this is?

OBSERVATIONS ON POST-ISABEL FREDERICKSBURG: Went out for a drive this morning. Lots of trees down. Lots of folks out with their chainsaws. The entrance to the dump was packed with pick-up trucks and trailers full of tree branches and other debris. One thing to be said about this area: folks are self-sufficient in many meaningful ways. No namby-pamby wait around until FEMA or the state government comes around to save us. We’ll do the job ourselves thank you very much and we will get back to work as soon as the power is back on.

Went to a nearby 7-11, one of the only places with power. Appears to be a generator because the lights were dim, no A/C on etc. A long line of people waited for coffee. The atmosphere was silent and a bit tired. Got to thinking about how complex and amazing our system is. There is no real reason why the dimly-lit, dirty-floored, many shelves empty 7-11 couldn’t be the normal reality. Yet, truckers, power companies, workers, distributors, manufacturers all work within an incredibly complex web of interdependence to keep the lights on, floors clean and shelves stocked. Are there downsides to this system? Sure. But it is remarkable how well things work most of the time.

BLOGGING BY CANDLELIGHT. The power is still out in our little neck of the woods. Appears to be on pretty much everywhere else in town. C'est la vie.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

ONE OF THE HALLMARKS OF PARTISANSHIP is equating all that is evil and wrong with the world with not human beings in general but with the other guys. Will Saletan discusses this phenomenon in connection with the oft-repeated observation that Republicans lie. Lie? Of course Republicans lie. They're politicians for heck's sake! But are they the only ones? Read the whole thing but here's his conclusion:
I'm not excusing the games Republicans play. But by projecting all evil onto Republicans, Democrats spread the same political disease: the notion that you don't have to be wary of lying or cheating unless the other side is doing it. Lying and cheating don't belong to Republicans or Democrats. We're all susceptible, and we're all guilty.

Sure, some people are more guilty than others. But if that's your obsession, I commend to you the words of my colleague, Jack Shafer: If you're interested in which wing lies more, you're probably not very interested in the truth.

BLOGGING FROM THE EYE OF THE HURRICANE. OK, the eye isn't quite here yet but there is plenty of wind and rain. The lights have been flickering but no power outages yet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

KRUGMAN! I heard an interview with the Princeton economist/NYT columnist on Marketplace Morning Report on the way to work this morning. He is ubiquitous in the media hawking his new book (collection of columns and other writings) The Great Unraveling. He also has been interviewed by blogger Kevin Drum (Calpundit). Krugman clearly has become something of a lightning rod: hated by conservatives, praised by liberals. I quite like some of his work and regularly assign it in my classes (for example his excellent essay, "The Myth of Asia's Miracle"). However, ever since he has started writing pieces for the New York Times, I have noticed two disappointing developments. First, he has ventured off of his home turf of economics with increasing frequency. It is often a temptation of academics to assume that since they are well-versed in one discipline, this makes them competent to comment on anything and everything (after all, academics are smarter than everyone else, right?). This is an enticing but dangerous route to take. Why is Paul Krugman more qualified to comment on Bush's lies on Iraq than I am? Does he have access to intelligence sources the average person lacks? Does knowledge of economics immediately qualify one to make geopolitical and psychoanalytical judgments on political leaders? Not among the academics I know. Second, he has become increasingly strident almost to the point of sounding slightly unhinged. Note the following excerpt from Drum's interview:
In fact, there's ample evidence that key elements of the coalition that now runs the country believe that some long-established American political and social institutions should not, in principle, exist....Consider, for example....New Deal programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, Great Society programs like Medicare....Or consider foreign policy....separation of church and state....The goal would seem to be something like this: a country that basically has no social safety net at home, which relies mainly on military force to enforce its will abroad, in which schools don't teach evolution but do teach religion and — possibly — in which elections are only a formality....
Can one make a reasonable argument that some members of the Bush team or their influential supporters would like to completely revamp if not eliminate Social Security or Medicare? Sure (though given Bush's profligate spending to date, calling him an anti-government figure seems something of a stretch). Does the Bush team rely on military force in its foreign policy? Again, absolutely. However, has anyone on the Bush team even made a peep about wanting to ban evolution and "teach religion" in schools? And make elections "only a formality?" It is extreme and unfounded statements like these (and Krugman has made many) that undercut his more valid and important message. Sad and frustrating!

UPDATE: more on Krugman here.

This harassment is happening in business-loving, entrepreneur-celebrating Texas. It persists because this sort of petty bureaucratic hassle--and the associated hidden taxes--is so routine that it doesn't constitute "news" and hence never becomes a political cause. But it's stifling business expansion just when the economy most needs it, and it's punishing bold, productive people.
This would seem to be a case in which there would (should?) be broad bipartisan support for reform (much like Al Gore's re-inventing government; who wouldn't want a government that is more efficient, less wieldy, less needlessly intrusive etc.?). Yet, I doubt we'll see issues like this on the political agenda any time soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

THIS REALLY BOTHERS ME. Best of the Web notes that the DC vouchers bill that passed the House by one vote would not have passed had Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich been present to vote (presumably) against the bill. Where were they? The Democratic debate in Baltimore. I am agnostic on vouchers; I see some benefits and some drawbacks. I am not agnostic on the idea that if you are going to waste your time running for president, do not do it while you are ostensibly representing your constituents in Congress. Have the grace, dignity and integrity to resign and let someone who wants to actually do his or her job take up the post.

in a plan announced this week to expand counterterrorism powers, President Bush adopted a very different tack. In a three-point presidential plan that critics are already dubbing Patriot Act II, Mr. Bush is seeking broad new authority to allow federal agents — without the approval of a judge or even a federal prosecutor — to demand private records and compel testimony.
Now I am not one of those who think that Bush and John Ashcroft stay awake a night thinking of ways to curtail our civil liberties. Having said that, I find it telling that this article includes this very revealing quote:
Officials could not cite specific examples in which difficulties in obtaining a subpoena had slowed a terrorism investigation.
If you want to make the case for intruding on civil liberties, at least base it on some sort of empirical evidence and not on supposition.

3. Geraldo Rivera threatened to nuke CNN's ratings "back to MSNBC country."

THOSE DAM BUILDERS! A great example of bureaucratic nonsense can be found here. And, if the eagle-eyed Urban Legend spotters at can be trusted (and they usually can be), this one is even true!

Monday, September 15, 2003

Agence France-Presse ("WTO CONFERENCE COLLAPSED AFTER DEADLOCK WITH SOUTH KOREA, AFRICANS," 09/15/03) reported that the collapse of the World Trade Organization's Cancun conference followed the refusal by the ROK and other developing nations to discuss the so-called Singapore issues, ministers said. "Korea and some other developing countries came to see the (conference) president to tell him that they would not move on Singapore issues," said Danish Foreign Minister Stig Moller. German Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement made similar statements, saying "several African states and South Korea" refused outright to discuss the four issues --cross-border investment, competition policies, trade facilitation and government procurement. Moller said the European Union "showed flexibility on these issues, but Korea wanted all of them out." "I don't blame anybody for the failure of this conference, but I think we could have reached a compromise if we had negotiated more," he said.
Does this look like a "developing country"? Or this? Or a city with this subway system? Or this amusement park (that, among a myriad other things, boasts this swimming pool)? Who does the ROK think it is kidding?
UPDATE: I should have also mentioned this.

The Associated Press (Joe McDonald, "CHINA PUTS SOLDIERS ON NORTH KOREA BORDER," Beijing, 09/15/03) reported that the PRC said Monday that its military has taken over patrolling its frontier with the DPRK, but wouldn't disclose why it made the change. The Foreign Ministry would not confirm reports in Hong Kong media that the PRC moved 150,000 troops to the border to stem crime by DPRK soldiers and to pressure its isolated communist neighbor to halt its nuclear weapons program. "It is a normal adjustment carried out after many years of preparation by the relevant parties," the PRC Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement.
A sign of increased pressure? How does the DPRK react?

ONLY AT FOOD LION would someone accept this as legal tender.

NORTH KOREA SHIFTS TOWARDS CAPITALISM. So reads the headline in the WaPo (thanks to IA for noticing the story). There are these signs of change:
South Korean officials and recent business travelers to North Korea say the food markets have dramatically expanded in the past few months. Existing markets have added manufactured goods to their product lines while new markets are spreading beyond the capital into rural areas. Pyongyang's official news agency recently described the expanded markets as being designed "to dramatically . . . improve the country's standard of living." In a radical departure from protocol, the agency also proudly published a photo of a large new market under construction in Pyongyang.
Yet, given the following, I am not holding my breath:
Creating an ad campaign acceptable to North Korean officials wasn't easy, said John Kim, the company's director of general affairs. "We had to work closely with the government, and they kept on rejecting ads . . . because they looked too much like we were trying to sell something."

Q: Should the U.S. have invaded Iraq?

A: I always believed Saddam has the kind of record that justifies taking action. I didn't see Saddam as an imminent threat, which is where I parted company with them. I think the whole thing has been mishandled.
I'm with Conrad of Gweilo Diaries on this one:
Does that mean 'yes", 'no' or 'don't have a clue'?

ARE YOU A NEO-CON? Since the vast majority of those who use this term seem to have little idea what it actually means, I'm not sure how much I care. Still, according to this quiz, I am not a neo-con, I am a realist. Is that a good thing?

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