Saturday, February 12, 2005


Otherwise known as the joys of e-bay (thanks to Tyler Cowen). I wonder how the folks who fork over good money really know that the plastic fern came from Graceland? Reminds me of this classic.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


So says North Korea in an announcement that P'yongyang will not participate in the six-party talks (Washington Post story here; free registration required).
North Korea's "nuclear weapons will remain [a] nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances," the ministry said. It said Washington's alleged attempt to topple the North's regime "compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by its people."
Despite this, the DPRK also continues to maintain that it wants a peaceful solution to the current standoff and a nuke-free Korean peninsula:
"North Korea said it retained its "principled stand to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula remain unchanged."
Which of course immediately gave rise to speculation that this is but the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of feints and tactics designed to maximize concessions at the negotiating table. Note this initial response from Japan:
"They have used this sort of phrasing every so often. They didn't say anything particularly new," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a regular news conference.
The Chosun Ilbo, citing unnamed "experts on the Stalinist country" concurs. Most of the other on-line English-language dailies are silent about the story. The English-language KCNA continues its usual praise of Kimjongilia and denunciation of Japanese "wicked tricksters."

So the story is, as they say, "developing . . . . . "

UPDATE: Full text of the DPRK statement here. Some lovely snippets:
This is nothing but a far-fetched logic of gangsters as it is a good example fully revealing the wicked nature and brazen-faced double-dealing tactics of the U.S. as a master hand at plot-breeding and deception.
Is it not self-contradictory and unreasonable for the US to urge the DPRK to come out to the talks while negating its dialogue partner? This is the height of impudence.

The US now foolishly claims to stand by the people in the DPRK while negating the government chosen by the people themselves. We advise the US to negotiate with dealers in peasant markets it claims they are to its liking or with representatives of "the organization of north Korean defectors" on its payroll if it wishes to hold talks.
It is the spirit of the Korean people true to the Songun politics to respond to good faith and the use of force in kind.

We had already taken the resolute action of pulling out of the NPT and have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration's evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK.

Its nuclear weapons will remain nuclear deterrent for self-defence under any circumstances.

The present reality proves that only powerful strength can protect justice and truth.

The US evermore reckless moves and attempt to attack the DPRK only reinforce its pride of having already consolidated the single-minded unity of the army and people and increased the capability for self-defence under the uplifted banner of Songun. The DPRK's principled stand to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula remain unchanged

UPDATE II: An interesting element of the WaPo article is an illustration of how the constant repetition of certain phrases inevitably leads to exaggeration. See:
The claim could not be independently verified. North Korea expelled the last U.N. nuclear monitors in late 2002 and has never tested a nuclear bomb, although international officials have long suspected it has one or two nuclear bombs and enough fuel for several more.
Well, not exactly. What most "international officials" conclude (at least those who pay close attention) is that the DPRK had, apparently, diverted enough fuel from the Yongbyon facility before the 1994 Agreed Framework to be able to make one or two bombs. There is, as far as I know, no evidence that the DPRK has actually done so.

UPDATE III: Chad Evans argues that this statement is nothing new and rounds up some other responses.

UPDATE IV: The UN responds (via Scrappleface)

UPDATES GALORE: Rebecca MacKinnon wonders "What's going on?" and has some thoughts as to the answer. She also links to this analysis in the Economist. The latter argues that North Korea's announcement will make it far more difficult for those who call for focusing only on plutonium programs to the exclusion of alleged HEU programs in the North:
Until recently, Chinese officials in particular had expressed scepticism that North Korea even had a uranium-enrichment programme. They and others have wanted America to focus on North Korea’s known plutonium-making. America accepts that North Korea has probably finished extracting the plutonium (enough for half a dozen bombs) from spent fuel-rods previously stored under the 1994 deal near its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon; it will soon be able to unload more rods from the reactor for reprocessing.

But the idea that America should set aside its uranium concerns is given a bipartisan rebuttal in the current issue of Foreign Affairs by Robert Gallucci, who negotiated the 1994 plutonium deal with North Korea under the Clinton administration, and Mitchell Reiss, the just departed head of policy planning in the Bush administration’s State Department. Turning a blind eye to evidence of North Korea’s enrichment work would, they argue, leave Mr Kim with a covert supply of fissile material, whether for bomb making or for export, including to terrorist groups.
For the original of the Gallucci/Reiss statement in Foreign Affairs, see here.

UPDATE NEXT: Jane Galt catches the New York Times being a bit, er, cautious.

IRRESPONSIBLE BUT IRRESISTIBLE UPDATE NEXT: Jeff Goldstein scoops the rest of the world on some other announcements soon to come from North Korea:
4: The first working printing press was invented by Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il’s great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great Grandfather sometime during the Cenozoic era—but when subduction destroyed the Tethys ocean, this important technological advance was lost to history in a collision of tectonic plates
6: At university, Dear Leader once did 6 beer bong, 14 shots of Mezcal, and an entire 8 ball, then went out and bowled a perfect game. Blindfolded
7: In 1975, a North Korean 4-year old named Jin-ho defeated both Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in a best of seven chess match. Jin-ho then returned to her family’s farm, where she helped plant rice and weave baskets.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


for those who can't get enough of the already cult classic flick, relive some of the immortal lines here.

I can't quite put my finger on why this movie appeals so much to me and, apparently, many others. But it does.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


There has been much ado of late concerning the saga of Ward Churchill, the chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado whose incendiary comments about 9/11 victims have caused many a call for his firing if not his head (some info about the brouhaha here and here)

There's a problem though: Mr. Churchill has tenure. And that means he cannot be fired for merely expressing his views, no matter how odious they may be (on the other hand, there are some allegations that Churchill may have engaged in academic fraud. If the allegations are valid, I am sure there is a clause in his tenure contract that would allow him to be fired).

Consideration of this case is likely once again to raise the issue of the benefits and costs of tenure as an institution. As even universities are increasingly influenced by business models, many wonder why it is that university faculty are guaranteed job security for life when everyone else has to compete in the Hobbesian marketplace. Well, I think there are a few reasons why the hoary institution is worth fighting for.

First, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am presently in a tenure-track position, with the prospect of my own tenure approaching in a year or so. Therefore, I have an obvious ulterior motive for wishing the institution to continue. However, I think I can make a case for tenure despite my obvious vested interest in the subject. Tenure is one of the attractions of working in academia; it goes a fair distance to make up for the relative lack of salary (as compared to other professions requiring similar investments in post-graduate education). If business-oriented administrators want to attract the same type of employees without the enticements of tenure, they will have to significantly increase the amount of money they devote to salaries, something that I would suspect that most University administrations and boards of directors would be loath to do. Of course some administrators may argue that their institutions would be better off without a bunch of intellectual prima donnas who have a far too inflated view of themselves and their own abilities. But it has been my experience that many of my colleagues in academia are smart, competent, capable people who could easily earn far more elsewhere but choose not to.

But even more significant than the fact that tenure helps lure better potential employees to academia is the fact that tenure secures academic freedom. What Ward Churchill said about 9/11 is in my mind reprehensible. But I still maintain that having institutional protection for faculty speech, research, and writing is an indispensable part of an institution of higher learning.

An anecdote I heard once: an economist at the University of Wisconsin consistently did research and published his findings that concluded that price supports for dairy products are economically counterproductive. The Governor of the dairy-rich state leaned on the University President:
"Isn't there some way you can shut this guy up?"
The reply:
"I'd love to, but he has tenure."
I have no idea as to the veracity of the story (perhaps Ann Althouse can shed some light?). I also can't make any learned judgments concerning the veracity of neoclassical economics' claims concerning price supports. But I can say that it would be a good thing for an economist to be able to explore politically sensitive issues and it would be a good thing for local politicians to have to engage with and confront his findings rather than simply silencing the messenger.

So, just as a defender of free speech might feel qualms about defending Larry Flynt's right to "speak" but nonetheless concludes that free speech is a principle and practice worthy of defending, so too do I feel compelled to defend Churchill's right not to be fired just because he stated something that I don't agree with (again, if has committed academic fraud, that is another story).

A corollary salutary result of keeping Churchill on at the University of Colorado is that is might force institutions to be a bit more careful in making their decisions to grant tenure in the first place. Based on what I know of the case, the U of C should be ashamed to have kept this guy on. But once they made that choice, the decisionmakers at the university should have to live with the consequences of that apparently heedless act.

A final observation: my defense of tenure and academic freedom is based on the assumption that there generally is a reality (or truth) that can be approached through rational discourse and analysis. I am still enough of an old fashioned Enlightenment-style thinker to believe this. The fact that many in academia, particularly in the humanities, seem to have reached different conclusions about this issue doesn't make it particularly easy to defend their unassailable position in the ivory tower. Neither does the fact that many seem to have concluded that, regardless of what they conclude about reality and truth, they are under no obligation to make their thinking and writing accessible to the educated non-specialist. I can sympathize with the business-oriented administrator wondering why her or she should have to defend the right of professors to write impenetrable prose, the gist of which appears to be that searching for truth is Sisyphean. Still, at the end of the day, I find tenure worth defending.

UPDATE: More thoughts (and more eloquently expressed at that) on the subject here.

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