Friday, March 31, 2006

A mission statement, of sorts.

This is the end of a blog post by Rob Anderson at The Plank, but The New Republic might develop a macro to work it into everything they run:
Don't get me wrong: I am not excusing the right. But I don't think journalists, even liberal ones, should give the left a free pass either.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fukuyama and Krauthammer have a history, and it's not over yet.

Charles Krauthammer and Francis Fukuyama used to be neo-con pals, but no longer. Fukuyama Krauthammer uses his valuable space on the Washington Post's op-ed page today to trash Fukuyama in a personal way -- for fabrication and opportunism -- without even bothering to connect his personal pique to less important issues like, such as the continuing failure of U.S. policy in Iraq. In a chat on, Fukuyama responds, to my eyes getting much the better of the exchange. The very first Q&A gives a nuts-and-bolt answer and then -- unlike Krauthammer -- Fukuyama gets at the larger issue between them:

Denver, Colo.: Mr. Fukuyama, [h]ow do you respond to Mr. Krauthammer's characterization of your description of his speech?

Francis Fukuyama: Krauthammer's speech was an extension of his earlier writings on the need for the US to benevolently manage a unipolar (what others would call hegemonic) world. A successful democratic transition in Iraq and the uncovering of WMD there were critical to the legitimacy of our performing this larger role, and there is no reference to the fact that the missing WMD or chaotic post-war situation had gravely undermined our credibility. That is why I thought it was completely disconnected from the reality that I was seeing at the time.

Then again, I'm no Krauthammer fan. He rarely says anything interesting, and he rarely says it well. If his column is useful, it is as a barometer of what a certain sort of conservatives is thinking. Krauthammer succeeds as an intellectual in the same way that Dick Cheney succeeds at policy, which is to say that they are taken very seriously in Washington, D.C., because their positions have real currency there, and no one there notices that these positions crumple on contact with reality.

Many, many people will read Krauthammer trashing Fukuyama on the op-ed page, and very few will get to see Fukuyama's response. Since he and Fukuyama have fought back and forth about their substantive differences for the last two years, it's particularly odd to see this corner of the Post used as a vanity press in this way.

Fukuyama does not need to rely on the Post for publicity for his ideas and his new book. Courtesy of Greg Djerejian, here is Louis Menand discussing Fukuyama in The New Yorker:
Modernity, Weber said, is the progressive disenchantment of the world. Superstitions disappear; cultures grow more homogeneous; life becomes increasingly rational. The trend is steadily in one direction. Fukuyama, accordingly, interprets reactionary political movements and atavistic cultural differences, when they flare up, as irrational backlashes against modernization. This is how he understands jihadism: as a revolt, fomented among Muslim émigrés in Western Europe, against the secularism and consumerism of modern life. (This is also how he interprets Fascism and Bolshevism: as backlashes against the general historical tendency.) Jihadism is an antibody generated by our way of life, not a virus indigenous to Islam.
This one paragraph explains radical Islam better than the whole of President Bush's speeches on the subject since 2001. But Menand's piece has more to say about Fukuyama than simply repeating some of his ideas; it's worth reading before it slips behind a subscription wall.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Postmodern Republicans.

The great lesson learned by postmodern Republicans has been that, where multiple ‘truths’ contend, the ‘truth’ favoured by powerful interests is likely to prevail.
John Quiggin, in a Crooked Timber seminar on Chris Mooney's The Republican War On Science. Well worth a look, even if you haven't read the book.

Endowment effect, immigration style.

As quoted by DeLong, Krugman says that immigration redounds greatly to the benefit of immigrants, but very little to the benefit of everyone else ("Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent."). And while there is some benefit to everyone else, the poor take a hit ("U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration").

In response, DeLong says that Krugman is "confused -- and probably wrong." Wrong how? Here's what DeLong says:

I think that we should focus on: "the net benefits... from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small." Particularly, we should focus on the "large gains to the immigrants themselves." The net benefits from immigration including the large gains to the immigrants themselves are enormous. We shouldn't forget that.

We should be taking steps to equalize America's income distribution: more progressive tax brackets, more public provision of services, a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit, a higher minimum wage, a greater focus on education. But tight restrictions on immigration are a really lousy anti-poverty policy: one with enormous excess burdens measured in money, and truly mammoth excess burdens measured in utility.

So where is Krugman "wrong"? They disagree on the question of whether you run social policy in this country for the benefit of those who live here or those live here and some others who might come to live here as well -- but there is no right answer to this question. It's hardly unreasonable to start from a baseline in which the government acts for the benefit of its own citizens. DeLong wants to suggest that "right restrictions on immigration" are something the poor need to purchase, and he measures their cost as if it's something the poor need to buy from foreigners as well. Free trade is a choice, not a state of nature. If you start from the presumption that social policy ought to benefit the poor, and then ask what we pay them to take the wage hit that comes with open immigration, I think you'd end up with a different policy. If the more affluent want the benefits of immigration, let's find a way to leave no one worse off.

If empirical testing of my hypothesis is necessary, I stand ready to receive chocolate bars.

Penumbras of penumbras?

Woman #1: I really wish they wouldn't let musicians play here.

Woman #2: Why?

Woman #1: I mean, seriously, it's such an invasion of my privacy.

Overheard in New York.


I heard Old Crow Medicine Show for the first time on Prairie Home Companion a few weeks ago, and their music jumped out of the radio and insisted to be heard again and again. Apparently they've been on the show several times before, so perhaps I wasn't paying attention.

Recognizing the next Fort Sumter.

Michael O'Hanlon worries that U.S. forces in Iraq may be taking the wrong approach to the incipient civil war:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has stated that U.S. forces would not become heavily involved in any civil strife, leaving it instead to Iraqis to sort out the problem. This approach, which mirrors the relatively passive approach U.S. troops took to the reprisal violence after the Feb. 22 bombing, has an understandable appeal. But it is akin to our decision to stand aside and allow wanton looting after Saddam Hussein fell in April 2003, and it could have comparably disastrous consequences.

If civil war begins in Iraq, it will probably consist of increasingly active vigilante justice -- as well as random, pointless acts of violent rage -- by Iraq's powerful militias. They will attack defenseless mosques, homes of important figures from other ethnic and religious groups, and defenseless citizens. They will begin to perpetrate ethnic cleansing with cold, premeditated purpose. As time goes on, hearing about similar behavior by other militias from other sectarian groups, they will also be motivated by a desire for vengeance -- not just for Hussein's atrocities of yesteryear but for what happened last week and last night. And they will seek to protect their own unarmed families and friends by stepping up ethnic cleansing in neighborhoods where they live, to preclude the possibility of further attacks against their own kin.

These are the typical dynamics of civil conflicts, as analyzed by scholars such as John Mueller, Barry Posen, Steve Stedman and Chaim Kaufmann. Civil wars with a heavy ethnic dimension do not typically begin as full-blown conflicts but rather develop an internal dynamic in which hate, rage and fear increasingly influence the actions of a growing number of people.

You could add Chris Hedges' War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning to that list.

Shades of Wallace, if not Gromit.

"HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales visits General Organisation for Technical Education and Vocational Training college on the seventh day of their 12 day official tour visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India, on March 26, 2006 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia."

Getty Images.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Note, however, that her meal came with french fries.

An actual post from Hugh Hewitt's blog:

Could I Be More American Right Now?

by Mary Katharine Ham

March 24, 2006 10:26 AM PST

I just got back from a rally in support of freedom of religion, during which free citizens spoke, the free press listened, and law enforcement stood by and let everyone say their piece.

On the way back to the office, I swung by McDonald's, and now I'm chowing on a Quarter Pounder meal that cost $5 and was served to me in, literally, 15 seconds. This is why we fight, folks.

Me, I get angry if they make me wait more 45 seconds, so I try to stick to peak hours.

The Second Amendment > DADT?

Michael Carroll asks: "[D]oes anyone else think a strict reading of the second amendment guarantees that gay people have the right to serve in the National Guard?"

Echo chamber indeed.

It turns out that Cheney is well protected from non-FOX viewpoints when he leaves his hotel room:
Dallas, Tex.: Good morning, Dana. Do you think VP Cheney's "insatiable thirst" for knowledge is being quenched by requiring that fair and balanced channel to be playing on the hotel's television?

Dana Milbank: That's actually just the start of it. Traveling with Cheney a couple of years back, I was amused to find Fox News playing in my own hotel room when I entered (but no Diet Sprite or Calistoga). It was also on in the press filing center, and it's standard viewing on the presidential/vice presidential aircraft.
I like that they had FOX News playing in reporters' hotel rooms, too.

The soft bigotry of low expectations.

Wait a minute -- a conservative blogger deserves an award for acknowledging clear evidence of repeated plagiarism?

Nor am I clear why Sullivan would hand out such an award.

I am not a regular reader of Andrew Sullivan, but I gather that his "Yglesias Award" nominations go to posts that take unnecessary detours through exagerated victimhood ("I've also been baselessly accused of plagiarism by some of the same leftists now attacking Ben"), perhaps tinged with self-promotion ("I've had my work plagiarized by shameless word and idea thiefs many times over the years"), and gratuitous potshots at the other side ("the Left should cease its sick gloating"), before eventually getting around to an admission against interest ("Domenech's detractors are right."). This seems terribly unfair to Matt Yglesias.

Maybe I just don't go to the right places on the interwebs. I haven't seen any "sick gloating," only dismay that the Washington Post's commitment to Deborah Howell-esque ideological balance led it to hire a ideological hack like Domenech to counterweight Froomkin.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Saving choice.

Bitch PhD's heroine -- make it super-heroine -- of the week is Oglala Sioux President Cecilia Fire Thunder, who wants to establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on her land on the Pine Ridge reservation in western South Dakota. Click through if you want to help. And she has a lot more abortion-related links here.

Bonds takes a swing, and now we wait for the umpire to rule.

Fans cheer a Bonds strikeout.

Chemically altered superjerk Barry Bonds says he's going to sue the San Francisco Chronicle reporters whose forthcoming book -- excerpts of which have already been in released -- details at length Bonds use of various steroids to turn himself into a historically unparalleled slugger and an even less pleasant person than he was previously. (It's not clear which of those is the more impressive feat.)

But Bonds isn't suing for libel, and it doesn't appear that he's going to argue that the reporters got anything wrong. Instead, the theory is that the reporters got their hands on materials they shouldn't have had:

"The reason we filed in the lawsuit in the simplest terms possible is to prevent the authors from promoting themselves and profiting from illegal conduct," Rains told The Associated Press on Thursday.

He said laws prohibit people from possessing grand jury materials unless they are unsealed and said authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, both also reporters for the Chronicle, "have made a complete farce of the criminal justice system."

Now, I don't know an awful lot about practice before a grand jury, but the notion that "laws prohibit people from possessing grand jury materials" strikes me as loopy. As far as I can tell, the applicable law provides:
(2) Secrecy.

(A) No obligation of secrecy may be imposed on any person except in accordance with Rule 6(e)(2)(B).

(B) Unless these rules provide otherwise, the following persons must not disclose a matter occurring before the grand jury:

(i) a grand juror;

(ii) an interpreter;

(iii) a court reporter;

(iv) an operator of a recording device;

(v) a person who transcribes recorded testimony;

(vi) an attorney for the government; or

(vii) a person to whom disclosure is made under Rule 6(e)(3)(A)(ii) or (iii).

Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2). Sub-section (A) of this rule says there is "no obligation of secrecy" on the part of anybody, except as listed in sub-section (B), which lists a whole bunch of people who "must not disclose" the matters. You will note that San Francisco Chronicle reporters are not included in the categories listed in sub-sections (i) through (vii). In other words, unless I'm missing something profound, Bonds' suit is completely baseless. A desperate lunge at a pitch he can't hit before he heads back to the dugout? Journalists receive grand-jury materials all the time. Their sources are violating Rule 6, but they are not.

Having said that, let me add that Bonds is suing under a California state law notorious for the discretion it gives judges to go where no judge has gone before. And even Mario Mendoza hit four home runs.

Of course there are good reasons for grand-jury secrecy, but the irony is rich here because the book makes clear that Bonds used his appearance before the grand jury to lie, again and again. Evidently Bonds feels very strongly that he should be able to lie to the grand jury in private.

Though some say Bush never knocks down straw men.

AP writer Jennifer Loven chronicles Bush's love of straw men.

Preparing the veep's echo chamber.

No surprise really that when he leaves the bunker Cheney requires all televisions to be tuned to FOX News. [eta:] Radosh finds a different reason to giggle at this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Scientology riots erupt as newspaper prints 12 cartoons of Tom Cruise.

Another reminder that Don Asmussen is a genius.

More dangerous than Vietnam.

A soldier's odds of being killed in Iraq are somewhat lower than they were in Vietnam, but this does not make it a safer place for combatants. The risk of being injured in Iraq is significantly higher than it was in Vietnam—3.1 percent of all those who have served, as opposed to 1.8 percent over a much longer period in Vietnam, according to Newsweek.

Jacob Weisberg, in Slate. I'd link to Newsweek, but Slate doesn't -- no respect for its corporate sibling.

And stop looking at the man behind the curtain.

Bruce Reed:
Because they are so deeply divided on issues like immigration and fiscal discipline, Republicans have decided to avoid making the election a referendum on their agenda. Given our success with a similar strategy in recent elections, I think I can speak for most Democrats in saying to the GOP: Good luck with that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Though no Uma.

Pinky Violence: The inspiration for Kill Bill, Vol. I. [N.B. -- Plenty of nudity, if that's not your thing.]

Shall I project a world?

Michael Berube finds himself blogging more:
The funny thing is that when I came to Durham, I imagined that I would “cut back drastically” on blogging (as I wrote three weeks ago), because I would be spending all my time in study and meditation. But lo! I have kept blogging anyway. Why is that? I tried to cut back, but, well. . . . Ahem. Well, partly it’s because I have not had unbroken 16-hour work days since I was 24 years old, and I am finding them too vast for comprehension. But mostly it’s because blogging turns out, in a curiously virtual-yet-tangible kind of way, to be one of the ways in which I now apprehend the world (and one of the ways in which the world apprehends me—and yes, I’m aware of the fact that “apprehend” suggests both “perceive” and “take into custody.” . . .).
This reminds me, like so many things do, of The Crying of Lot 49:
In Mexico City they somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remedios Varo: in the central paintings of a triptych, titled ‘Bordando el Manto Terrestre’, were a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Backdating CEOs' options.

If it smells like fraud . . . .

Sunday, March 19, 2006

And I drink coffee every morning.

Steroids go with, not against, the flow of American morality. There is no bedrock principle to dissuade people from using them. In his 2004 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush argued that steroid use "sends the wrong message that there are shortcuts to success". But really, that is nonsense in a society so quick to assimilate scientific advances. Children use calculators in school, adults have surgery as an alternative to dieting and the faith that medicine can painlessly fix problems that bedeviled our ancestors grows more ingrained every day. It does not seem coincidental that the most important ballplayer to have failed a steroid test is Rafael Palmeiro, best known to non-baseball fans as a pitch man for the erectile aid Viagra.
Christopher Caldwell, "Home truth amid the home runs," Financial Times 7 (March 18/19, 2006).

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Wrong exit.

Here's a lousy way to go.

Also a great source of butter cookies!

"Copenhagen . . . proves that cosmopolitan flair has nothing to do with the size of a city, especially not one which, since 1966, has been the cultural capital of Europe." Alec Court, ed., Baedeker's Copenhagen 10-11 Fodor's Travel Pubs., 1999).

Who knew? (And why 1966?)

Friday, March 17, 2006


Ryan Lizza wouldn't know a good wedge issue if it smacked him upside the head, though that might knock some sense into him. With most Democratic Senators still holding wet fingers up to see which way the breeze is blowing, half the country already thinks Bush should be censured for illegal domestic wiretapping. Few -- if any -- Democrats think Bush was right to flout FISA. Many Republicans -- if not in the Senate -- think Bush was wrong. There are times when it makes good political sense to stand on principle. This is one of those times.

This is not to say that Feingold picked the best way to build support for censure. He didn't, and perhaps had his own interests in '08 in mind. As Mark Felt recently reminded us, our system of checks and balances serves the common good even as individuals pursue their own self-interests. All the more reason not to let the President exempt himself from it. Censure is a good first step, though I'm not sure impeachment should be the end game.

Notwithstanding Franklin Foer's hand on the helm, the New Republic again plays the tedious game of asserting its moderate bona fides by bashing other Democrats. Boring and irritating, all at once.

A different side of E.J. Dionne, spotted.

Lars Thorwald recalls:

I'll never forget Dionne at that Cato reception last summer. I was standing there with Bob Reich, just yucking it up about John Derbyshire's rumored penchant for homo-erotic slash fiction or some other throwaway gossip, and in strolls Dionne in that faux green fur he loves, and that Isaac Hayes fedora.

"Eege, what's going on?" asked Bob, amused. "Jus' keepin' it real n' shit," came Dionne's standard response. Something was clearly bothering him, though, because he was clearly irritated. "Why I got to have all these ho's up in my grill n' shit?" E.J. eventually confessed. "Every muh-fuhing time she rolls around, that b*tch Nicole Wallace got to be all on my junk, man, and I can't take the b*tch no mo! All with the 'E.J. baby' this and the 'E.J. honey' that. Man, she just usin' me for my pimped ride, yo. That and my fiercely incisive grasp of electoral politics. I finally said, yo, back off, and let a playa play!" He eventually lost interest in complaining about his 99 problems, and rolled out with a back-up singer for Parliament Funkadelic, who was there to play a few songs and present a white paper on ag reform in the Balkans.

Look, everyone in Washington knows you can't hope to step up to E.J. Dionne, Jr. when it comes to having pimp hand. He's got it, and he knows it. All you can hope is that he'll bring you along for the ride.

"Awash in meaningless consumerism."

From a 1998 letter from John Rawls to Philippe van Parijs:
One question the Europeans should ask themselves, if I may hazard a suggestion, is how far–reaching they want their union to be. It seems to me that much would be lost if the European union became a federal union like the United States. Here there is a common language of political discourse and a ready willingness to move from one state to another. Isn’t there a conflict between a large free and open market comprising all of Europe and the individual nation-states, each with its separate political and social institutions, historical memories, and forms and traditions of social policy. Surely these are great value to the citizens of these countries and give meaning to their life. The large open market including all of Europe is aim of the large banks and the capitalist business class whose main goal is simply larger profit. The idea of economic growth, onwards and upwards, with no specific end in sight, fits this class perfectly. If they speak about distribution, it is [al]most always in terms of trickle down. The long–term result of this — which we already have in the United States — is a civil society awash in a meaningless consumerism of some kind. I can’t believe that that is what you want.

So you see that I am not happy about globalization as the banks and business class are pushing it. I accept Mill’s idea of the stationary state as described by him in Bk. IV, Ch. 6 of his Principles of Political Economy (1848). . . . I am under no illusion that its time will ever come – certainly not soon – but it is possible, and hence it has a place in what I call the idea of realistic utopia.
This is from the end of the second of three letters available here. Thanks to Chris Bertram for the tip.

As it would happen, I was just reading today's Financial Times whilst I ate my lunch, and it occurred to me that the newspaper is written for a reader who spends long hours thinking about how his or her company can better earn money and devotes whatever time is left on his or her evenings and weekends to investing his or her personal capital and in the act of consumption. The Financial Times does not seem to speak to citizens as such.

eta: Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong weigh in.

eata: The weekend Financial Times included a fashion magazine subtitled, "how to spend it."

Now that you've seen The Aristocrats.

The history of the Brokeback Mountain joke, via Lagniappe.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

I sure hope this trip works out.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Who cares if Republicans are listening?

Ed Kilgore asks:

There's a question that lurks beneath a lot of the unhappy intra-Democratic Party discussion in the blogosphere...: Is the risk of "reinforcing Republican talking points," or to use everyone's favorite new phrase, "supporting conservatives memes" so high that critical conversation about strategy, tactics, message, and policy has to occur offline?

I think both sides in the usual intraparty debates are guilty of excessive "the enemy is listening" fears, and that we need to create a free-speech zone with some simple rules of civility (e.g., I won't call you crazy, and you won't call me spineless, just because we disagree).

I think the problem is not that the "enemy" is listening -- it's that the media is listening to Democrats, and is all too willing to write stories about disagreements. The media is less interested in writing these stories about Republicans, and -- because of the cultural orientation and networks of most reporters -- less likely to go to places, real and electronic, where Republicans talk to each other. How can Democrats find ways to hash out the usual intraparty debates while not beating each other up in the press?

Traditions are modern things.

John Quiggan explains. I'm stymied in my efforts to find a few sentences to quote, lest I omit anything else, so just go read the whole thing -- it's not long.

Practicing what they preach?

"The domestic policy adviser faces up to 30 years on felony theft charges for applying Bush's economic policy at a box store."

-- Bruce Reed (and Jacob Weisberg).

Belle Waring is cooking fish.

And taking photos as she goes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Waking up with a mouthful of peanut butter.

Today's New York Times reports on the disturbing side effects of Ambien:
The sleeping pill Ambien seems to unlock a primitive desire to eat in some patients, according to emerging medical case studies that describe how the drug's users sometimes sleepwalk into their kitchens, claw through their refrigerators like animals and consume calories ranging into the thousands.
A spokesperson for the company that makes Ambien "cautioned that every case reported in patients taking Ambien might not necessarily be caused by the drug." Well, that's reassuring.
No cause has been found for sleep-related eating disorder, but Dr. Schenck says he believed that it happened when the brain confuses two basic instincts: sleeping and eating. "Those two become linked," he said. "In the sleep stage you eat. I think two instinctual behaviors become intertwined."
That sounds like comic-book science.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum.

[Updated below.]

In his youth, Patrick Leigh Fermor learned some of Horace's Odes, and later they served him well.
One of them -- I. ix. Ad Thaliarchum -- came to my rescue in strange circumstances a few years later. The hazards of war landed me among the crags of occupied Crete with a band of Cretan guerillas and a captive German general whom we had waylaid and carried off into the mountains three days before. The German garrison of the island were in hot, but luckily temporarily misdirected, chase. It was a time of anxiety and danger; and for our captive, of hardship and distress. During a lull in the pursuit, we woke up among the rocks just as a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida. We had been toiling over it, through snow and then rain, for the last two days. Looking across the valley at this flashing mountain-crest, the general murmured to himself:
Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte . . .
It was one of the ones I knew! I continued from where he had broken off:

. . . nec jam sustineant onus
Silvae laborantes, geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto,

and so on, thought the remaining five stanzas to the end. The general's blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine -- and when I'd finished, after a long silence, he said: "Ach so, Herr Major!" It was very strange. We had both drunk at the fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts 85-86 (NYRB, 2005).

One translator renders Horace, Ode 1.9, as follows:
You see how [Mount] Soracte stands out white
with deep snow, and the struggling trees can
no longer sustain the burden, and the rivers
are frozen with sharp ice.

Dispel the cold by liberally piling logs on
the fireplace, and draw out more generously,
o Thaliarchus, four-year-old unmixed wine
from the two-handled Sabine jar.

Entrust everything else to the gods; as soon as
they have stilled the winds battling on the heaving
sea, neither the cypress trees nor
the ancient ash trees are shaken.

Leave off asking what tomorrow will bring, and
whatever days fortune will give, count them
as profit, and while you're young don't scorn
sweet love affairs and dances,

so long as crabbed old age is far from
your vigor. Now let the playing field and the
public squares and soft whisperings at nightfall
(the appointed hour) be your pursuits;

now too the sweet laughter of a girl hiding
in a secret corner, which gives her away,
and a pledge snatched from her wrists
or her feebly resisting finger.
Fermor doesn't say how his time with the German general ended, but the interweb provides more of the story:
[T]he captive was . . . the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance.
Fermor's captive actually was Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe, but his name was changed to Karl for Ill-Met by Moonlight. A bio of Kreipe says that he successfully sued for defamation over the movie's mistaken claim that he gave his word of honor that he would not try to escape. (For still more on the operation, go here, or scroll down to History Box No. 1 here.)

Leading us towards a class-less society?

Daniel Radosh watches as the Fighting Keyboardists mock an American who died in Iraq.

Shorter Arlen Specter.

"We must surrender the Congress -- and my last shreds of self-respect -- to save the President."

And don't even get me started on Olympia Snowe.

Working the press.

Anonymous Lawyer explains that Democratic politicians need to get more post-modern, or in touch with their labor roots, or something:
What Democratic politicians fail to understand -- and this is particularly ironic given the Democratic party's historical association with the labor movement -- is that this is fundamentally a collective action problem. The term "reasonable" has no objective meaning, at least in the realm of politics. Whether an idea is deemed "reasonable" has little to do with the merits of the idea and everything to do with the prevailing political climate as interpreted by our national media. GOP strategists like Karl Rove long ago realized that the national media will treat any talking point that is repeated by enough people as ipso facto "reasonable," and conversely, will treat any idea that is not repeated by a sufficient number of people as "unreasonable" or "extreme," no matter what its objective merits. It's a very crude calculus and one that is easily manipulated by shrewd partisans.

. . . What Republican strategists have learned is that when a party speaks in unison, it has the power to define what is considered reasonable in the eyes of the national media, and in turn, the American public.

Democrats, however, cannot seem to internalize this idea. They approach politics as if the rules of reasonability and civil discourse are immutable or have been set by some neutral referee. When someone like Howard Dean steps over this arbitrary line, Democrats join the GOP in immediately calling "foul." When a Republican steps over the line, however, more often than not his Republican colleagues act collectively to move the line. Suddenly we find ourselves in a debate over whether outing a CIA agent is actually a good thing, or whether a law that has been on the books for three decades and repeatedly reaffirmed by this President should be violated. It doesn't matter what the consensus was five minutes ago.

Life imitates art.

In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor walked across a Holland he had seen before:

Ever since those first hours in Rotterdam a three-dimensional Holland had been springing up all around me and expanding into the distance in conformity with another Holland which was already in existence and in every detail complete. For, if there is a foreign landscape familiar to English eyes by proxy, it is this one; by the time they see the original, a hundred mornings and afternoons in museums and picture galleries and country houses have done their work. These confrontations and recognition-scenes filled the journey with excitement and delight. . . .

So compelling is the identity of picture and reality that all along my path numberless dawdling afternoons in museums were being summoned back to life and set in motion. Every pace confirmed them. Each scene conjured up its echo. The masts and quays and gables of a river port, the backyard with a besom leaning against a brick wall, the chequer-board floors of churches -- there they all were, the entire range of Dutch themes, ending in taverns where I expected to find boors carousing, and found them; and in every case, like magic, the painter's name would simultaneously impinge. The willows, the roofs and the bell-towers, the cows grazing self-consciously in the foreground meadows -- there was no need to ask whose easels they were waiting for as they munched.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts 33-34 (NYRB, 2005). What is a besom, you ask?

Primary things first.

The idea that Hillary will coast through the Democratic primaries on the strength of the black vote seems less plausible when you stop to think about the black populations of Iowa (2.1%) and New Hampshire (0.7%).


Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy has just launched a new blog to focus on legal issues,

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Our man in Baghdad V.

Edward Alden, Guy Dinmore and Holly Yeager call Khalilzad "skilled" to balance out accurate reporting about what a mess Iraq is:
Zalmay Khalilzad, the skilled US ambassador to Baghdad who is struggling to get the Iraqis to form a government of national unity, this week conceded that the US had opened 'Pandora's box' in Iraq, an assessment reinforced by the State Department's annual human rights report, which painted a grim picture of sectarian warfare between insurgents and interior ministry death squads.
"Weakened Bush reels from new blows," Financial Times 2 (March 11/12, 2006). The article also credits additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo. How many FT reporters does it take to change a lightbulb? Maybe it's their source of competitive advantage?

All those lost hours, redeemed.

TBogg says video games save lives.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Early flight.

I just posted about Peter Demetz's The Air Show at Brescia, 1909 over at Words, Words, Words.

Garage Bordeaux.

The Washington Post profiles garagist Jean-Luc Thunevin, who now sells about a million bottles of wine a year, but who got his start about 15 years ago making Bordeaux in, bien sur, his garage. Many believe he is a threat to the tradition that Bordeaux stands for ("If I'm a conductor playing Mozart, can I add notes to it?"); others credit him for revitalizing the French wine industry.

No caption required.

H/t to sgtclub for the link.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Naming rules.

Something I did not know, courtesy of Laura Turner:
Apparently, it wasn't until 1993 that parents in France became legally free to give their child whatever name they chose, as opposed to having to choose either a classical, Biblical or calender saints' name. Giving your baby a hyphenated and alternately spelled versions of allowed names was permitted in France starting in the 1960s.

Supersize my personal boundaries, and a large Coke, please.

Peter Hessler writes about Little Ju'er, the Beijing hutong (alley) where he lives, a surviving remnants of old Beijing.
Dozens of households might share a single entrance, and although the old residences have running water, few people have private bathrooms, so public toilets play a major role in local life. In a hutong, much is communal including the alley itself much is communal, including the alley itself. Even in the winter, residents bundle up and sit in the road, chatting with neighbors. Street vendors pass through regularly, because the hutong are too small for supermarkets.
The government has built outdoor exercise stations, which "are perfect for the ultimate hutong sport: hanging around in the street with the neighbors." Five years ago, the government rebuilt the public toilet, which became a community focal point.
After a while, there was so much furniture, and so many people there every night, that Wang Zhaoxin declared the formation of the "W.C. Julebu": the W.C. Club. Membership was open to all, although there were disputes about who should be chairman or a member of the Politburo. As a foreigner, I joined at the level of a Young Pioneer.
As you might expect, neighbors in the hutong get into each other's business, and Hessler is told by the local bicycle repairman that the local matchmaker, Teacher Peng, is ready to pair him with someone.

Teacher Peng wears him down, and Hessler eventually agrees to a date. But when they meet, she explains that matchmakers are not allowed to work with foreigners, and so theirs is an underground meeting. Naturally, then, they meet beyond the hutong, at the local McDonald's.

In Hessler's description -- and this is the part of the article I found most interesting, the reason for this post -- McDonald's provides a modern counterpart to the ancient communal space of the hutong. But not in the way I expected . . . .
When I first moved to the neighborhood, I regarded McDonald's as an eyesore and a threat: a sign of the economic boom that had already destroyed most of Beijing. Over time, though, hutong life gave me a new perspective on the franchise. For one thing, it's not necessary to eat fast food in order to benefit from everything that McDonald's has to offer. At the Jiaodaokou restaurant, it's common for people to sit at tables without ordering anything. Invariably, many are reading; in the afternoon, schoolchildren do their homework. I've seen the managers of neighboring businesses sitting quietly, balancing their account books. And always, always, always somebody is sleeping. McDonald's is the opposite of hutong life, in ways both good and bad: cool in summer, warm in winter, with private bathrooms.

It's also anonymous. Unlike Chinese restaurants, where waitresses hover, the staff at a fast-food joint leaves people alone. On a number of occasions, dissidents have asked me to meet them at a McDonald's or a K.F.C., because it's safe. When Teacher Peng told me that our meeting was "underground," I realized why she had chosen the restaurant.

Others apparently had the same idea. One couple sat near the window, leaning close and whispering. At another table, two well-dressed girls seemed to be waiting for their dates. Over Teacher Peng's left shoulder, I kept an eye on a couple who appeared to be having some sort of crisis. The woman was about twenty-five; the man seemed older, in his forties. Their faces shone with the unnatural redness that comes to many Chinese who have been drinking. They sat in silence, glaring at each other. Nearby, the McDonald's Playland(tm) was deserted.
My first thought was that McDonald's would be a private space, run as a private enterprise in the way that a franchise in this country might. But Hessler suggests that the restaurant is open to all comers, whether or not they pay for the food. It's a public space, but a public space of a different sort. As wonderful as the climate control may be, one senses that the most attractive aspect of McDonald's atmosphere is its anonymity, the possibility of personal boundaries that are impossible in the hutong. My surmise is that McDonald's is not actually anonymous, in that it serves a neighborhood, and that neighbors will see neighbors there. Hessler recognizes the local businessmen there, for example. And yet the foreignness of McDonald's means that the usual rules of social interaction are suspended, leaving a tacit understanding that people there are free to go about their own business.

The article is Peter Hessler's "Letter From China: Hutong Karma," at page 82 of the February 13 & 20, 2006, New Yorker. I can't find it on-line -- sorry. The issue also has a new story by Haruki Murakami, so it's well worth $4.99. My wife recommends Hessler's book River Town, though I have not read it (yet).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Words, words, words.

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2.

When I first started this blog, I got in the habit of writing short pieces about the books I read. In part, I felt that the blogosphere can become too caught up in ephemera, and I thought I would do my own little part to work longer texts into the mix. But mostly, I did it for myself. I found that I paid more attention to books when I expected to write something about them afterwards, and I liked having a record of what I had read. I enjoyed my book blogging, though I never got a sense that many readers were interested.

Since last fall, for a variety of reasons, I've fallen away from writing up the books I read. Now I've decided to do it again, but because I think it would detract from the flow of this place, I've started a separate blog for the purpose: Words, Words, Words. I've just put up the first post over there, about John Lukacs' latest book on Winston Churchill. When I run into something in a book that seems worth a post over here, I'll keep posting it here, but the longer posts about what I've been reading will go there. At least that's the plan for now.

Caught in lesser institutions.

Jane Galt finds Steve Teles writing about the academic labor market:
[Q]uality (as measured by scholarly productivity) is to a significant degree endogenously produced by initial allocation to institutions. . . . PhDs at higher ranked institutions will find it considerably easier to produce a stream of high-quality work than their counterparts at lower-ranked institutions.

The consequence of this is that initial allocations of individuals to institutions will tend to be highly sticky—high potential PhDs who end up at the “wrong” institutions in the original sort will have a hard time producing the scholarship that shows that they “deserve” to be at the higher ranked institutions (that is, that shows that at the higher ranked institutions they would produce more quality scholarship than incumbents). At the same time, those who have the good luck to end up at the “right” institutions will produce significantly more quality work than they would if they had been sorted into the institutions that matched their inherent potential.
Prompted by this, Jane Galt observes that worries about the victims of higher education's affirmative action:
There is one side effect that he doesn't address, which is that if he's right, the costs of affirmative action to those who are displaced by it are very large. A white male academic shunted off to a lesser institution will never, ever get out of it. And given that the number of good research universities is so small, there is a substantial chance that that is where a displaced candidate will end up.
But why focus on affirmative action (which plausibly has other costs as well)? The problem is not strictly with affirmative action, but with the pretense that the system is meritocratic when it fact its results appear instead to be the result of the initial placement of candidates. Is there any doubt that the same is true, many times over, of public elementary, junior high, and high schools in this country? Why do Galt and other conservatives spend so much time thinking about affirmative action instead of thinking about why it is that minority academics (or graduate students, or college graduates, or high-school graduates) are underrepresented to start with? How many were shunted to "lesser institutions" that they never got out of?

To be fair to Galt, maybe that second-to-last sentence does not reflect the her preoccupations, or her blog's, which I should read more often. Nevertheless, in the context of a conversation and merit and equity in the educational system, perhaps academic hiring is not the most pressing inequity facing us.

Furry and tricky.

Hamster sudoku.

Furry lobsters!

This news just in from the South Pacific, via Oklahoma City, by way of A. (thanks, A.!). No comment yet from the Medium Lobster.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

He likes to get lit up, too.

Christian painter of kitsch Thomas Kinkade periodically wins attention for his unorthdox business practices. His ouevre stretches beyond canvas: "His images adorn air fresheners, night lights, teddy bears, toys, tote bags, pillows, umbrellas and La-Z-Boy loungers, which one retailer's ad describes as 'something not merely to be acquired, but collected — like fine art itself.'"

But enough about the businessman -- what about Kinkade the artiste?

And then there is Kinkade's proclivity for "ritual territory marking," as he called it, which allegedly manifested itself in the late 1990s outside the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

"This one's for you, Walt," the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, said Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Kinkade's company, in an interview.
Kinkade gave the Times a non-denial denial of this incident, but does allow that he might have relieved himself in hotel elevator in Las Vegas. "'There may have been some ritual territory marking going on, but I don't recall it,' he said."

And then there's his enthusiasm for Siegfried and Roy:

Dandois, who left the company to become chief executive of a group of galleries owned by Kinkade's brother, Patrick, recounted that about six years ago the artist was so intoxicated during a performance by Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas that people seated nearby moved away from him.

"I think it was Roy or Siegfried or whatever had a codpiece in his leotards," Dandois testified. "And so when the show started, Thom just started yelling, 'Codpiece, codpiece,' and had to be quieted by his mother and Nanette."

Did he use the codpiece thing as inspiration? I missed that La-Z-Boy.


David Luban discusses the decision in the Arar case a few weeks back. When I first heard what the district court had done, I couldn't believe it. Someday historians will use it as an example of what went wrong in this country.

How-To Dept.

Via Prof. Hargittai, how to fold a shirt.

It's like he read the Washington Post.

Max Weber on official secrets.

A different perspective on housing prices.

Anup Malani argues for using housing prices as a measure of welfare. Higher housing prices "indicate that something good has happened in the community. Housing prices go up because more people want to live there."

Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.

But the wild things cried, "Oh please don't go -- we'll eat you up -- we love you so!" And Max said, "No!"

Monday, March 06, 2006

Icons in America.

[T]he fact that these are iconographic red-state guys is what makes this blue-state movie uncomfortable. But note that it's not cowboys who are banding together to protest. You and I have both known cowboys, and though they can be reactionary, racist, and homophobic, usually they also tend to be libertarian. They might not see the movie, but its existence wouldn't bother them much, just like the existence of gay people doesn't bother them much, as long as they don't have to deal with them. The people who are getting uncomfortable are exurban, kinda wussy fundamentalists who fantasize about a masculinity they don't actually have. If you made a movie about exurban fundamentalists discovering they were gay, nobody would care because exurban fundamentalists are nobody's masculine icon.
Alexander "Benjamins" Hamilton.

It's the competence, stupid.

The agency entrusted with protecting the U.S. homeland is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters, say private security guards at the complex.

The guards have taken their concerns to Congress, describing inadequate training, failed security tests and slow or confused reactions to bomb and biological threats.

For instance, when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened last fall at Homeland Security Department headquarters, guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it by the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then shook it outside Chertoff's window without evacuating people nearby.
AP, via Tapped.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why are prices rising instead of density?

Further to my recent posts about Carol Lloyd's columns, in which I complained that Lloyd was writing about a form of housing regulation (tenant protections) without discussing its hidden costs, along comes Brad DeLong to discuss the work of economist Ed Glaeser about real-estate markets. Glaeser is interested in the effect of local regulations -- including, but not limited to, zoning regulations -- on housing markets. Glaeser "views supply as crucial to appreciating what has happened to the U.S. real-estate market over the past 30 years." Supply is constrained by land and the transportation system, of course, but moreso by government regulations that prevent increasing density. "[A]fter sorting through a mountain of data, Glaeser decided that the housing crisis was man-made. The region's zoning regulations -- which were enacted by locales in the first half of the 20th century to separate residential land from commercial and industrial land and which generally promoted the orderly growth of suburbs -- had become so various and complex in the second half of the 20th century that they were limiting growth." (These quotations by Mark Thoma and then Brad DeLong from the NYT.) DeLong posits that a couple of things are going on, one of them being "the transformation of local governments -- especially local governments of neighborhoods made up of detached houses -- from machines to enrich developers via new construction to machines to enrich homeowners by generating upward pressure on house prices."

As an empirical matter, this strikes me as correct. In cities like San Francisco, it is famously impossible to tear down housing to put denser housing up, except in neighborhoods that really need help. In practice, the neighbors have a veto, and they use it. One gets a sense of just how comprehensively the government frustrates development from this 1999 article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Bay Area efforts to foster "transit villages" near BART stations. Or there's this 2002 Carol Lloyd column about "smart growth." Lloyd writes, "smart growth recommends concentrating the densest development -- both residential and business -- in cities and near public transport so open space is preserved and cities become less car-dependent and therefore more livable." Something is very wrong if government action of some sort is required for this to happen: market forces should be making it happen already.

But to DeLong's question, have municipal governments ever been anything but machines to enrich homeowners? Without the benefit of any real knowledge or research, I would suggest that municipal governments have always been fairly responsive to the interests of homeowners. Politicians usually are pretty responsive to the voters, and the focus in local elections is narrower than that in state or national elections. Homeowners usually are probably more numerous than tenants and in any event more likely to vote. But I would further suggest that municipal governments could enrich developers, too, because the interests of developers and homeowners were sufficiently aligned. So maybe the question is, when did the interests of developers and homeowners diverge?

As DeLong notes, "starting around 1970, many of America's metropolitan areas filled up in the sense that there was no longer greenfield land within less than half an hour's commute of anywhere you wanted to go." At this point, I would imagine that towns like Cambridge and Palo Alto effectively shut the developers out, greenfield development being one thing, but anything that changes a neighborhood something else. (Also a point at which I imagine it became much more difficult to improve commutes in material respects without spending massive amounts of money, but I know even less about that issue.)

If so, this suggests that the problem we have is that municipal governments are too responsive to their voters, particularly homeowners, and therefore do not adequately serve the broader public interest.

eta: Jane Galt posts on the same topic.

eta: Mike points me to Out of Cheese's discussion of the mortgage deduction, and an article re the same in yesterday's NYT Magazine.

The Simpsons, de-animated?

Nicely done, but why? Via Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Meanwhile, in Berkeley.

The Sarong Theorem Archive.

That horse will be hard to get back in the barn.

The Bush Administration is busy politicizing the military. Sigh.

eta: Marshall has more:

What's wrong with this picture?


Recommended: Beckman Vineyards 2004 Cuvee Le Bec. 40% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 11% Counoise. All good. $16.99 retail. I'd post a picture of the label, but Beckman's site doesn't have this one. It's like this, but different:

Has Isaiah Thomas reached a tipping point?

Bill Simmons interviews Malcolm Gladwell (that's part one; here is part two). I am something of a Simmons fan, if not as rabid as that phrase might connote. Gladwell strikes me as provocative if sometimes misguided. But, hey, that's just a quick take.

Anyway, Gladwell says he's just a product of his environment:
I'm working in a such a supportive and structured environment that I no longer know where my own abilities end and where the beneficial effects of the environment begin. Just think if you were a New Yorker writer, Bill. Suddenly your editors would be asking you to make your stories longer. You spend the summers at a writer's colony in New England, working on a historical novel based loosely on Freud's famous falling-out with Adler. And girls would hit on you in bars because they would think of you as cute in that nerdy, bookish way.

May it please the court.

Arguing two cases in the same day to the Supreme Court would be a lot of work, but a blast. Criminal-defense lawyers have all the fun.

Google's plans for world domination.

Nice piece in the Financial Times (free registration required) today by Richard Waters about Google's prospects:
[Its] immodest ambition puts Google among a growing band of technology companies that believe they can own it all. Ebay executives are fond of describing their potential market as the entirety of global commerce. Period. Michael Dell has been only marginally less of a megalomaniac. When his personal computer company’s revenues got to $40bn or so a year, he sketched out plans to get to $80bn. Servers, printers, televisions – Dell would make them all.

What all these companies have in common is a belief in method: a confidence that what sets them apart is not the services or products for which they are currently known but a way of doing things. If Dell makes cheaper PCs by collecting customers over the telephone and internet and building machines to order, then why not apply that principle to any type of electronic product? If Google has used technology to bring a higher level of targeting to advertising, why not use that brain power to squeeze the inefficiency out of other corners of the advertising industry?

Grand plans such as these run into a couple of problems. One is that a process perfected in one market often does not transfer quite so neatly into another. Take Dell, which has not made much of a splash in consumer electronics. It turns out that people do not want to buy large-screen TVs over the internet, sight unseen.

In Google’s case, it may be that search engine advertising will prove to have been the purest expression of its technology. When people type keywords into an internet search engine, they are exposing a specific need for information, often linked to a desire to buy something. Deliver the right advert at that moment and the chances of a sale are high.

Any attempt to extend targeted advertising to other media will represent a dilution of this ideal, particularly as Google tries to address the off-line world. . . .

The second problem is that, as competitors catch on, they erode the technology or cost advantages of the pioneer – or they are quicker to apply the lessons to new markets.

Ebay, for instance, has run into problems in China, where a local internet auction company, TaoBao, has stolen a march by letting sellers list their items free of charge. Google now has Bill Gates to contend with: Microsoft has not perfected its search engine advertising technology to anything like the degree that Google has, but it may be able to start using it as a weapon to undermine pricing.


The Washington Post profiles Dave Chappelle, back with a movie -- well received, it seems -- and a new stand-up routine:
Commenting on the movie "The Passion of the Christ," he notes that the actor who portrayed Jesus was struck twice by lightning during filming. This suggests one of two things, he says: a) that God is smiting those who would create graven images of His prophets, or b) "The Jews have a weather machine."

Early planes crashed a lot.

There were many accidents during the Grand Aviation Week at Rheims, August 22-29, 1909, but none of them fatal:
The aviator Henri Rougier . . . started his plane in the wrong direction and had to land perilously close to the spectators; a certain Mme Villars, suddenly seeing the plane braking in front of her, fainted in the best Victorian manner, and a less fortunate young woman who had just enjoyed her sandwich in the meadows was hurt on her ankle by Rougier's undercarriage, though the physician said it was not anything dangerous. . . . On the third day, Henri Fournier's plane crashed and, a little later, so did Louis Breguet's. On the sixth day, [Louis] Paulhan, hoping to start for the distance competition, found his machine caught in a sudden gust of wind and pushed down against the runway; one wing broke, the propeller was destroyed, and Paulhan's last chances to compete for the award were gone (he was observed to weep). On the final day, [Louis] Blériot was lucky to escape alive from a burning plane. He had started early to ready his machine for the last race when the spectators noticed that his motor was aflame in midair. Blériot tried to land briskly, but the plane crashed. He himself emerged on fire and rolled on the soil to extinguish the flames; behind him the plane burned in a cloud of black smoke. Blériot was in shock, having suffered a wound on his forehead and a shoulder injury, and his hands were burned . . . .
Peter Demetz, The Air Show at Brescia, 1909 40-41 (FSG, 2002).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Shorter _______.

Explained, along with some fine examples.

WHEREAS: Dada is a virgin microbe.

Via Unfogged, a proclamation from the mayor of Lawrence, Kansas:
WHEREAS: Dadaism is an international tendency in art that seeks to change conventional attitudes and practices in aesthetics, society, and morality; and

WHEREAS: Dadaism may or may not have come into being in the summer of 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire at 1 Spiegelgasse in Zürich, Switzerland, with the participation of Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Emmy Hennings, Marcel and Georges Janco, Jean Arp, and Richard Heulsenbeck; and

WHEREAS: The central message of Dada is the realization that reason and anti-reason, sense and nonsense, design and chance, consciousness and unconsciousness, belong together as necessary parts of a whole; and

WHEREAS: Dada is a virgin microbe which penetrates with the insistence of air into all those spaces that reason has failed to fill with words and conventions; and

WHEREAS: zimzim urallala zimzim urallala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zam;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Dennis “Boog” Highberger, Mayor of the City of Lawrence, Kansas, do hereby proclaim the days of February 4, April 1, March 28, July 15, August 2, August 7, August 16, August 26, September 18, September 22, October 1, October 17, and October 26, 2006 as “INTERNATIONAL DADAISM MONTH”

and I encourage all citizens

Dennis “Boog” Highberger
December 27, 2005

Housing Friday continues.

The Financial Times says more Americans should be renting (sorry, subscription only):

... For those unlucky enough to have missed the stunning appreciation of house prices over the past few years, the rationale to buy now is shaky at best.

An exhaustive study of the US housing market by HSBC, "A froth-finding mission", has highlighted the appeals of renting in many parts of the US....

Even taking account of the generous tax subsidy that allows Americans to deduct their mortgage interest payments from taxable earnings, new homeowners are paying an increasingly hefty premium over renters. The annual cost of home ownership in Los Angeles, for example, is now more than double the cost of renting. LA homeowners have long been paying more than renters, says Mr Morris [an economist at HSBC], but the premium for owning is now 40 per cent more than its average over the past three decades. The figures for many of the other leading US property markets are no less alarming....

HSBC's research shows that even removing capital repayments from mortgages, new home owners in many areas will still be left paying a large premium. In San Francisco or Honolulu, annual ownership costs are 68 and 73 per cent greater even on an interest-only mortgage -- a riskier mode of borrowing that has become popular in richly valued property markets.

... Taking into account the added risks of homeownership, HSBC has calculated that prices would need to rise by 10 per cent a year in Palm Bay Florida, 8.5 per cent in Washington DC and 8.2 per cent in Denver -- far more than the 20-year averages....

The benefits of home ownership do eventually reassert themselves if you hold on to houses for long enough, even in the most highly priced markets, says Mr. Morris. Assuming house prices remain steady, you would need to hold a house in LA for 11 years before the costs equalled those of renting. In Washington DC it would take 12 years to break even.

... Even so, housing experts say the temptations of home ownership will remain irresistible. "Home ownership remains a potent symbol of success in America," says Nic Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "Renters tend to have lower social status in the eyes of many Americans."

Fair housing.

I wasn't the only one who disagreed with the thrust of Carol Lloyd's column last week about tenant protections in the Bay Area. Today's column gives more of a landlord's perspective, but from a fairness perspective, rather than thinking about how rent-control regulation makes housing more expensive for everyone. As New York’s Citizens Budget Commission put it, “The most fundamental criticism of rent regulation is that it perpetuates the very problem it was designed to address: a housing shortage.”

Lloyd writes:
If we could really generate enough money to support all the needy tenants in the city through collective taxes, that would be amazing. But how many people would that cover? How much money would that cost?
Two issues are confused here. Landlords are "taxed" right now, by being required to forego market rents. Setting fairness aside, the housing market should serve everyone better if the tenants were subsidized in an equal amount through some other form of support. But if you want housing to be cheaper, you need more of it. If still more subsidies are needed "to support all the needy tenants in the city," that's a separate question.

History shows that people don't pass taxes on themselves so easily.

Hey, if public policy is going to be about legislating goodies that someone else pays for, then I want a pony.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nancy Grace Smackdown Dept.

A standing eight count? “[I]f she doesn’t tell the truth, it’s gonna come out sooner or later.”

(N.B. -- The New York Observer makes you pay for articles after a week. Read this one before March 8.)

Why we fight.

For the wrong reasons, apparently.

Investing in plaintiffs.

Saul Levmore picks up on interesting hedge-fund activity.

Bush and Churchill.

Ambassador Khalilzad aside, George Will starts and ends with a comparison of Winston Churchill and George Bush:

When late in the spring of 1940 people of southeastern England flocked across the Channel in their pleasure craft and fishing boats to evacuate soldiers trapped on Dunkirk beaches, euphoria swept Britain. So Prime Minister Winston Churchill sternly told the nation: "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."

Or by curfews, such as the one that cooled the furies that engulfed Iraq after the bombing last week of a Shiite shrine. Wars are not won simply by facing facts, but facing them is a necessary prerequisite.

Last week, in the latest iteration of a familiar speech (the enemy is "brutal," "we're on the offensive," "freedom is on the march") that should be retired, the president said, "This is a moment of choosing for the Iraqi people." Meaning what?

* * * * *

Today, with all three components of the "axis of evil" -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002, the country would welcome, and Iraq's political class needs to hear, as a glimpse into the abyss, presidential words as realistic as those Britain heard on June 4, 1940.
Strangely, Will's version is not what most people will recall that Churchill said after Dunkirk. The famous lines, though stirring, were perhaps less realistic:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
(Perhaps apocryphally, as the House of Commons thundered in response to these lines, Churchill whispered to a colleague, ""And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!")

As John Lukacs describes in Five Days in London, there were some days in May, 1940, when some in Britain considered the road to surrender, but by the time he gave this speech in early June, Churchill had prevailed to thwart this.

Will's faith that the right presidential address can turn fix what ails Iraq is what you would expect from a pundit. But in a war, what good is a pseudo-event? Maybe what we need is not Churchillian words, but a new policy. Churchill, famously, found a rhetoric to match the crisis. Bush, as even Will now seems to see, hopes the crisis will match his rhetoric.

Our man in Baghdad IV.

George Will picks up the meme. Ambassador Khalilzad is "heroic" and "indispensable," not withstanding that he is making "threats" that are "not credible":

After Iraqis voted in December for sectarian politics, an observer said Iraq had conducted not an election but a census. Now America's heroic ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, one of two indispensable men in Iraq, has warned the Iraqi political class that unless the defense and interior ministries are nonsectarian, meaning not run as instruments of the Shiites, the United States will have to reconsider its support for Iraq's military and police. But that threat is not credible: U.S. strategy in Iraq by now involves little more than making the Iraqi military and police competent. As the president said last week: "Our strategy in Iraq is that the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down."

Iraq's prime minister responded to Khalilzad's warning by accusing him of interfering in Iraq's "internal affairs." Think about that, and about the distinction drawn by the U.S. official in Iraq who, evidently looking on what he considers the bright side, told Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins, "This isn't a war. It's violent nation-building."
Here's a new theory about the Khalilzad loving: It's a way for writers to signal their fair-mindedness and ability to discern quality within the administration even as they chronicle how Iraq is passing from bad to worse.

Will continues, quoting Lawrence Kaplan:

"With U.S reconstruction aid running out, Iraq's infrastructure, never fully restored to begin with, decays by the hour. . . . The level of corruption that pervades Iraq's ministerial orbit . . . would have made South Vietnam's kleptocrats blush. . . . [C]orruption has helped drive every public service measure -- electricity, potable water, heating oil -- down below its prewar norm."
If Iraq's government is that corrupt, does it really matter what Khalilzad says? Maybe he's heroic, but not indispensable.

Our man in Baghdad
Our man in Baghdad II
Our man in Baghdad III

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Support our troops.

If accurately reported, the Marine Corps' decision to restrict internet access -- e-mail, news, sites critical of the administration, blogs, that sort of thing -- to troops in Iraq is just unacceptable.

The messenger never came.

Like all intellectuals in a closed society, Wat had to rely on rumor, guesswork, intuition. His sense of German communism's being doomed because Stalin didn't want a Communist Germany was validated by Friedrich Wolff, a German playwright. Wat had met him in Berlin in 1928 and saw him again in Warsaw in 1934 or 1935 when Wolff was on his way to Moscow. Wat retells what Wolff divulged to him when they went out to a bar: "It was a tragic story. Wolff had been the head of a section, a communist cell. After the Reichstag fire, everything was put in place for a communist revolt, resistance. They knew where their weapons had been buried, in a woods outside Berlin. With German precision, everyone had been assigned a role. Wolff's group had assembled and they were only waiting for a messenger to bring them the word. But the messenger never came. Not just to his cell, not to any."
Richard Lourie's Introduction to Aleksander Wat, My Century xxviii (NYRB, 2003).

Army helicopters.

The Washington Post's Ann Scott Tyson writes about women flying Army helicopters in combat over Iraq:
Buzzing over this northern Iraqi city in her Kiowa scout helicopter, a .50-caliber machine gun and rockets at the ready, Capt. Sarah Piro has proved so skillful in combat missions to support U.S. ground troops that she's earned the nickname "Saint."

In recent months of fighting in Tall Afar, Piro, 26, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., has quietly sleuthed out targets, laid down suppressive fire for GIs in battle and chased insurgents through the narrow alleys of this medieval city -- maneuvering all the while to avoid being shot out of the sky. In one incident, she limped back to base in a bullet-riddled helicopter, ran to another aircraft and returned to the fight 10 minutes later.

"They call her 'Saint Piro' -- she's just that good," said her co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Buckhouse, a 19-year Army veteran who has worked with Piro on two tours with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq.
According to Tyson, about 9 percent of Army aviators are women. And apparently Congress isn't happy about it:
Under a law signed last month, the Defense Department must submit to Congress this year a report on the assignment of women, particularly in the Army, to ensure compliance with existing Pentagon policy, which was also codified by the law. The law requires that before opening any new positions to women, the Defense Department must tell Congress what justifies the change and observe a 30-day waiting period.

The legislation, while greatly watered down from earlier versions that would have rolled back opportunities for women, still limits the Pentagon's flexibility in adjusting to new wartime realities, critics say. It was passed over the objections of Pentagon leaders, including Army Secretary Francis Harvey, who said the change was not necessary. "We have opinions on the law, but it's now the law and we will abide by it," Harvey said in an interview last month.
Oddly enough, no one in the Administration seems to have suggested that Article II, Section 2, lets the President -- not Congress -- decide who is going to pilot Army helicopters in combat. This probably has something to do with Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." Why is the Army Secretary will to go along with Congress's power to make the law here, when Attorney General Gonzales insists that the President is free to let the NSA wiretap whomever it likes in the name of national security?

A new Hubble picture.

Hoop dreams.

This is awesome.

State houses.

Nothing was more important to the long-term success of the conservative movement than its governors in the 1990s. In the mid-1990s, there were only a handful of Democratic governors in big states -- Hunt in North Carolina and Chiles in Florida, nearing the end of their careers, Carnahan in Missouri, Zell Miller in Georgia -- and all through the Upper Midwest and Northeast, voters saw conservative Republican governors who were effective (thanks to an economic boom and some slick postpone-the-pain tax moves) and mostly non-divisive. That’s one reason that when George W. Bush came forward as a compassionate conservative, it was a familiar and comfortable idea. Take away Newt Gingrich and the takeover of Congress, and the Republican Party might be every bit as strong today. But take away the dominance of Republican governors through the ’90s, and I doubt we would have this era of one-party control in the ’00’s.
Mark Schmitt.

Competence, again.

Although the coverage of Bush's trip to India has focused on how Bush left for India without a deal, hoping that an agreement could be reached while he was in the air, Fred Kaplan explains that the President's India policy has entailed "winging it" in much more fundamental respects. In essence, Bush has pledged to India that the United States will break several treaties and U.S. laws, evidently without much thought about whether this will fly. Remarkable, if not surprising.

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