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July 2005

A Minute's Worth of Weblogs

Courtesy of Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

Making Light: gives you... a single flat unadorned list of weblogs that’ve updated that minute... 66 entries.... I copied off the list and looked at all of them, as though I were doing a species count in a wildlife area.

Here’s how they break out. My categories are arbitrary, but all categories are.

  1. Potemkin weblogs that have a parasitic relationship with Google Ads [19].... [T]he great-grandchild of the “reports” scam... the mark in the reports scam is the person who thinks he can make big money publishing and selling the junk content he buys from the scammers. In this variant, the junk content is being automatically scooped up and aggregated from free content feeds to create Potemkin weblogs. The sites’ owners then sell ad space on them to Google Ads, which is itself heavily automated, and thus doesn’t notice that it’s placing ads on junk sites.... Posts in this group invariably start with the first paragraph of a news story or press release related to the weblog’s declared subject. The story’s headline is used as the title of the post. Subsequent paragraphs are a random selection of the first paragraphs of other stories they’ve already used. It’s obviously a completely automated process, because major text glitches don’t get corrected. The resulting “weblog” couldn’t fool anyone but a computer...
  2. Moneygrubbing fake weblogs that don’t depend on Google Ads: "19. Belmont Stakes Live Gambling belmont stakes gambling wagering offtrack race track betting"...
  3. Just using the software... sites that have adapted the weblog software and format to non-webloggish purposes. I expect we’ll be seeing more and more of this. Weblogging software is cheap, flexible, feature-rich, and extremely easy to use...
  4. bringing self-expression to sensitive students worldwide... must be making it cheap and easy to get on. I can’t make out most of their names, or the titles of their weblogs, but most of them give their location.... Chiba-ken... Tokyo-to, Japan.... IASDTO, Brazil.... Shanghai, China.... Cholula, Puebla, Mexico.... Grenoble, France.... Heilongjiang, China.... Taiwan.... Minas Gerais, Brazil...
  5. weblogs in languages in which I am not fluent.... Hessamblog’s blog @ PersianBlog... Antin Itä-Bloggi... Coredump... Ciencia Rabia... Franchement!... Antidig... Serializer... diario de wendy...
  6. Anglophone blogs-for-the-sake-of-blogging: Fourteen weblogs, between a fourth and a fifth of the total. Naturally, since this is the category I’d fall in, I can see all kinds of fine distinctions and subcategories within the list....

So, there’s the lot of them. What do I conclude?

  1. Automated intelligence is stupid.
  2. Google Ads ought to be more discriminating about its ad placement.
  3. ...[W]eblogging is an activity and a set of customs, not the software and templates used to do it.
  4. Weblogging... may or may not prove to be an enduring literary form, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the weblog template—-episodic, open-ended, easily modified to have sidebars and text jumps and comments and embedded mini-blogs, imposing no relationship on its elements beyond chronological order—-outlives everything else we’ve done....
  5. We don’t have to read all the weblogs all the time—-who could?—-but as long as they exist, those parts of the world they illuminate can’t be invisible to the rest of the world. Hardworking teenagers in China, beleaguered housewives in Iraq, avant-garde art students in Turkey-—they’re all real to us.
  6. If there’s an overall message to weblogging-—not that there has to be one, but still, if there is—-it’s HELLO WORLD.

Addendum: Jim Macdonald tells me that Wendy of “diario de wendy” had a fight last night with her mother over her clothing, and over the Catalan slang that she and her friends use.... Jim also says that “Ciencia Rabia” means... possibly “Science, My Ass”...

Revenue Situation

The consensus on the federal revenue situation:

REVENUE COLLECTIONS IN 2005: WHAT DOES THE RECENT INCREASE IN REVENUES SIGNIFY? by Richard Kogan and Isaac Shapiro: Shortly before the release of CBO’s July’s Monthly Budget Review, which provided data on the recent revenue increases, the director of CBO emphasized the temporary nature of the revenue surge. “I do hope people are taking this with a grain of salt and not thinking this is 1998 all over again,” CBO’s director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said. “There’s simply no question if you take yourself to 2008, 2009, or 2010, that vision is the same today as it was two months ago.”

Ken Mehlman Says George W. Bush Is Wrong

The Whiskey Bar picks up a very sharp and public dissent by RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman from the partisan political strategies of George W. Bush:

Whiskey Bar: Southern Strategies: It was called "the southern strategy," started under Richard M. Nixon in 1968, and described Republican efforts to use race as a wedge issue -- on matters such as desegregation and busing -- to appeal to white southern voters. Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, this morning will tell the NAACP national convention in Milwaukee that it was "wrong".... "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong." Washington Post "RNC Chief to Say It Was 'Wrong'to Exploit Racial Conflict for Votes" July 12, 2005.

As the nation honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, thousands of people gathered here to demand that lawmakers remove the Confederate battle flag from atop South Carolina's Statehouse.... "I think that the flag should be removed from the state Capitol," Vice President Al Gore said Sunday. "That's my position and I think that Governor Bush has avoided taking a position or has ducked the issue." GOP front-runner George W. Bush has denied avoiding the issue. "I haven't waffled from day one when I've been asked the question," Bush told CNN's "Late Edition on Sunday. "That's a decision for the people of South Carolina to make." CNN "Thousands march against Confederate flag in South Carolina" January 17, 2000

Treading Water

Stagnant wages. This doesn't feel like an economy near full employment. Not at all:

How Long Can Workers Tread Water? - New York Times: By EDUARDO PORTER: James Barnes, a $350-a-week guard at an office building on Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, has not had a raise in years. But his income just jumped sharply: Three months ago, he took on a newspaper delivery route from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m., which pulls in an extra $235 a week.

Mr. Barnes fits snugly into the pattern of America's current economic expansion. The wages of typical workers are treading water, growing roughly at the same rate that inflation eats into their buying power. Last week, the Labor Department reported that average wages for production and nonsupervisory workers in the private sector, about 75 percent of the labor force, reached $16.06 an hour in June, just 2.7 percent above the level a year ago.... Workers' wages may be barely keeping up, but Americans' average incomes are growing briskly - in part, because of growth in the overall number of jobs, including Mr. Barnes's extra one. But it also reflects other forms of income, flowing mostly to the more affluent.... "You have a lower half of the wage distribution in the United States that has not experienced any income gains for a long time now," said Barry P. Bosworth, an economist at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.... Even as the average worker's wages are stuck in neutral, corporate profits, professionals' incomes, gains from investments and executive compensation - the kind that frequently comes in the form of stock options - are all surging, supporting healthy gains in the economy....

To be sure, income growth has slowed from its torrid pace - year-on-year growth of real disposable income decelerated to 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2005, from 4.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004.... But that is still plenty strong enough to support substantial output growth, which is expected to advance about 3.5 percent this year, after accounting for inflation. The income gains have been powerful enough to overcome the headwind of surging oil prices, which have pushed gasoline to over $2.25 a gallon.... And there are scant signs that spending is on the wane. Mr. Mann just bought an iPod. With the prospect of more take-home pay, even Mr. Barnes joined the shopping crowds, spending his income-tax refund on a secondhand Dodge Caravan minivan. "It's good because I enjoy it," Mr. Barnes said, "but I need it for my second job."...

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (Doug Feith Edition)

Kevin Drum writes:

The Washington Monthly:

DOUG FEITH'S SWAN SONG.... Via Suburban Guerrilla, you really have to admire the chutzpah of senior Bush administration staffers sometimes. Here is Doug Feith, the outgoing #3 guy at the Pentagon:

"Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error, as to the stockpiles" of weapons it assured President Bush existed in 2003, Feith said. Thus that part of the administration's argument for why war was necessary was overdone, he said, adding, "Anything we said at all about stockpiles was overemphasis, given that we didn't find them."

Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error. Yep, it was all the CIA's fault! Damn their hides!

This really takes some balls considering that it comes from the guy who was ultimately in charge of the Office of Special Plans, the Pentagon outfit charged with ferreting out evidence of WMD and al-Qaeda connections in Iraq that the squishy analysts at the CIA were too reality based to acknowledge. The OSP was practically created to find WMD whether it was there or not. If the CIA did screw up, Feith's shop made them look like pikers.

Ballsy indeed. Of course, Feith is also the guy that Gen. Tommy Franks memorably called "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." Perhaps that's the perfect combination for this administration: ballsy and stupid.

The combination also needs its #3 as well: a press corps that lets them get away with it...

The New York Times Writes About Class!

Louis Uchitelle, David Cay Johnson, and finally the New York Times has a third good story about class in America today!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden reports:

Making Light: "I also feared she would judge my life and find it wanting": There's an entire novel of manners lurking under the surface of this, particularly when paired up with this response.

For some bloggers, of course, the only point of the story is that it's foolish to be too forthcoming with an employer about your personal stuff. (A point readily acknowledged by the blogger herself, in the comment thread here.) Other bloggers seem to grasp that there's a bit more going on. Atrios highlights Pandagon commentor Jeff's wry observation that evidently "an employee writing about her employer in a blog is enough to get her fired, but an employer writing about her employee in the New York Times is just journalism. Jeff suggests we may be in the presence of something called "class issues", which is of course impossible since America doesn't have cla—, I mean cl-, I mean, you know, that word I can't even type.

Interestingly, while you might get the impression from Helaine Olen's Times piece that her former nanny was placarding the intarweb with overt discussions of Olen and her family, in fact the nanny never named any of them; indeed the blog didn't even contain the blogger's own full name. (Indeed, in retrospect, the nanny/blogger appears to have been writing about the Olen clan rather less than Olen and her husband thought she was, but tha's a comic subplot.) By contrast, Olen was nowhere so circumspect:

I told my friends about the blog, and even my childless acquaintances were riveted. They called, begging for more details. "Did she wear the rose negligee, the pink see-through slip or the purple Empire-waisted gown?" demanded one after perusing a post on the proper outfit for first-time sex.

For a smart and nuanced discussion of all this, which digs past the obvious What-Did-You-Expect harrumphing into the much more interesting complicities, check out Bitch Ph.D. Do read the comments; they're worth the extra time. Unsurprisingly, the nanny/blogger is a participant in that discussion, reacting reasonably to criticism and adding some interesting details to her own side of the story. It would be particularly interesting if Helaine Olen were to show up the conversation as well, but of course that's never going to happen, and that fact is at the h

Digby Is Shrill

Yep. Really shrill:

Hullabaloo : Spikey's Threat: I woke up this morning thinking about Michael Isikoff, which isn't my favorite thing to think about first thing in the morning. Last night he told Jon Stewart that Pat Fitzgerald had better have something really, really strong to justify this investigation taking the turns its taken. It had better be about something really important --- it had better be about national security. He was quite fierce about it.

I didn't hear the rest because I threw the remote at the TV and it mercifully turned off.

The idea that Michael Isikoff, of all people, is laying down the gauntlet --- warning Fitzgerald that if he's thinking of prosecuting someone for perjury, say, or obstuction of justice, he will lead the chorus denouncing him as an overzealous prosecutor --- is stunning. I don't know what is in the Chardonnay in DC but it's causing a lot of people to have severe problems remembering things --- and seeing themselves in the mirror.

Michael Isikoff was practically Ken Starr's right hand man in the media. He performed at only a slightly less partisan level than Drudge or Steno Sue Schmidt. He admits in his book that he became convinced that the president treated women badly and therefore needed to be exposed. He didn't seem to think that throwing a duly elected president from office for lying about a private matter was overzealous in the least. He was on that bandwagon from the very beginning and one of the guys who drove it.

Michael Isikoff did not go on television and say that the punishment didn't fit the crime or that Starr should have had something really, really important to justify his 70 million dollar investigation. Indeed, he did exactly the opposite....

Short Term Memory Loss

The NY Times is reporting than an anonymous Rove defender who has been briefed on the case (by Rove?) says that Novak was the one who told Karl Plame's name and informed him of "the circumstances" in which her husband traveled to Africa --- at which point we are supposed to believe Karl suddenly remembered that he'd heard some of this from other journalists and confirmed the story to Novak by saying either "I heard that too" or "oh, you know about it."

I can certainly understand why Fitzgerald might have been suspicious of this tale --- especially when he read that Novak's first comment on the matter was: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

According to this article "they" refers to an unknown source and ... Karl Rove.

Taking the Long View

Tim O'Reilly writes:

O'Reilly Radar > On Failing to Think Long Term: Stewart Brand gave me permission to post his email summary of Jared Diamond's talk last night. Over to Stewart...

To an overflow house (our apologies to those who couldn't make it in!), Jared Diamond articulately spelled out how his best-selling book, COLLAPSE, took shape.

At first it was going to be a book of 18 chapters chronicling 18 collapses of once-powerful societies--- the Mayans with the most advanced culture in the Americas, the Anasazi who built six-story skyscrapers at Chaco, the Norse who occupied Greenland for 500 years. But he wanted to contrast those with success stories like Tokugawa-era Japan, which wholly reversed its lethal deforestation, and Iceland, which learned to finesse a highly fragile and subtle environment.

Diamond also wanted to study modern situations with clear connections to the ancient collapses. Rwanda losing millions in warfare caused by ecological overpressure. China-- "because of its size, China's problems are the world's problems." Australia, with its ambitions to overcome a horrible environmental history. And Diamond's beloved Montana, so seemingly pristine, so self-endangered on multiple fronts.

He elaborated a bit on his book's account of the Easter Island collapse, where a society that could build 80-ton statues 33 feet high and drag them 12 miles, and who could navigate the Pacific Ocean to and from the most remote islands in the world, could also cut down their rich rain forest and doom themselves utterly. With no trees left for fishing canoes, the Easter Islanders turned to devouring each other. The appropriate insult to madden a member of a rival clan was, "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth!" The population fell by 90% in a few years, and neither the society nor the island ecology have recovered in the 300 years since.

Diamond reported that his students at UCLA tried to imagine how the guy who cut down the LAST tree in 1680 justified his actions. What did he say? Their candidate quotes: "Fear not. Our advancing technology will solve this problem." "This is MY tree, MY property! I can do what I want with it." "Your environmentalist concerns are exaggerated. We need more research." "Just have faith. God will provide."

The question everyone asks, Diamond said, is, How can people be so dumb? It's a crucial question, with a complex answer. He said that sometimes it's a failure to perceive a problem, especially if it comes on very slowly, like climate change. Often it's a matter of conflicting interests with no resolution at a higher level than the interests-- warring clans, greedy industries. Or there may be a failure to examine and understand the past.

Overall, it's a failure to think long term. That itself has many causes. One common one is that elites become insulated from the consequences of their actions. Thus the Mayan kings could ignore the soil erosion that was destroying their crops....

One good sharp question came from Mark Hertzgaard, who asked the speaker if he agreed "with Stewart Brand's view that the threat of climate change justifies adopting more nuclear power." To my surprise, Diamond said that he was persuaded by last year's "Bipartisan Strategy to Meet America's Energy Challenges" to treat nuclear as one important way to reduce the production of greenhouse gases....

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps (New York Times Media Whores Edition)

Billmon writes:

Whiskey Bar: For a powerful example of what a joke the nation's newspaper of record has become, here's the story to read. But only for the entertainment value: "Prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case have shown intense interest in a 2003 State Department memorandum that explained how a former diplomat came to be dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission and the role of his wife, a C.I.A. officer, in the trip, people who have been officially briefed on the case said."

Once again we have the ubiquitous "people who have been briefed on the case," which under the circumstances, can only mean the Justice Department officials to whom Patrick Fitzgerald must report. (Back before Ken Starr got his hands on the job, this kind of thing was considered a strong argument for having an independent counsel.)

The first thing to note about this story is that there is not a particle of "news" in it -- that is to say, information that can't be found in the archives of the Wall Street Journal (October 17, 2003), the Washington Post (December 26, 2003) and Newsweek (August 9, 2004).... Now the squad of Times reporters who worked on today's story (three bylines, two "contributing" lines) couldn't be bothered to tell us that somebody deliberately leaked the memo to a GOP front group as part of a continuing effort to smear Wilson. On the other hand, the Times squad (like Police Squad, but dumber) puts a lot of stress on the fact that the Secretary of State was actually seen reading it....

This, we are told, is one of the "new details" about the memo and its origins that could offer "clues into who knew what and when." Which I guess is why the fact that the memo was originally addressed to Marc Grossman -- undersecretary of state for political affairs and a made member of the neocon mafia -- is buried in the 17th paragraph. So is the fact that the memo was dated June 10th, 2003 -- not long after Wilson began talking (off the record) to journalists about the administration's efforts to hype the alleged Niger uranium deal.

Likewise, the fact that the memo is based on the notes of a State intelligence analyst who was at the meeting where it was decided to send Wilson to Niger is relegated to the 20th paragraph. But that's still better placement than what the Times squad gives to the fact that the CIA has contested the authenticity of the notes because one of the guys quoted in them wasn't even at the meeting. That didn't make it into the Times story at all....

The real purpose of the Times story seems fairly obvious: The leakers (those mysterious "people who have been briefed") wanted to point a finger of suspicion at Colin Powell, the man who was seen holding the smoking memo in his hand on the plane to Africa.... The Times, in other words, has allowed itself to be used -- cheerfully, unapologetically and, most of all, stupidly...

Do Writers for National Review Have "Beliefs"? Empirical Evidence Says "No"

Matthew Yglesias does a dirty but necessary job:

TPMCafe || Conservative Epistemology: Productivity was low today, so I thought I'd pay a visit to the Corner:

Yesterday in my writers' room, the subject of the blacklists and Communist writers came up. I quickly found myself outnumbered 11 to 1 (the Annoying Friend, my only conservative ally, was out writing a script, damn him) and also (as usual) a bit under-informed. I need a good article or two on the subject, countering the following assumptions: 1) Communists in Hollywood weren't putting their ideology into their work. 2) The threat was just paranoia. 3) The United States is a democracy, so if people want to be Communist, that's their right. 4) The people who "named names" were cowards. Thanks in advance.

Now, see, I'm not very well informed on this topic so I don't have strong opinions on any of those theses. Evidently, though, they form beliefs differently on the other side.

I challenge Matt's implicit claim that writers for National Review have "beliefs." I don't think any philosopher would classify whatever-they-have as such.


There is a four-point buck that has taken to resting during the day underneath the small deck outside the laundry room.

It cannot fit all the way underneath the deck--it's antlers are too big. So it sits there in the permanent shade with its head sticking out.

Two Months Before the Mast of Post-Modernism

Over at The Valve, they are talking about the book Theory's Empire--and thus about the damage done by "Critical Theory" and its spawn on the American humanities over the past generation. But most of it is all too... theoretical.1 What work can you do with statements like:

  • "Derrida is... the greatest and most exciting thinker of the 20th century.... Derrida is in many respects... very conservative... one must start from that conservatism in order to measure the ways in which he is radical... can seem highly radical to thinkers who are attempting to graft Derrida into a tradition... in which many of Derrida’s key reference points have historically been marginal.... How much does that affect the way you read a sentence where someone asks to have a button undone? Probably not much..."
  • "This polarizing, personalizing rhetoric indicates that social constructionism has an institutional basis, not a philosophical, moral, or political one. It tramples on philosophical distinctions and practices an immoral mode of debate. Though it declares a political goal for criticism, it is not a political stance.... Herein lies the secret of constructionism’s success... it is the school of thought most congenial to current professional workplace conditions of scholars in the humanities."
  • "I liked theory, even when I felt I didn't have the faintest idea what was going on, because if nothing else you could sense the energy behind it.."
  • "The older philosophical critics, Jameson suggests, lacked Hegelian seriousness: in place of an aggressive commitment to the consequences of their premises, they were 'content' to 'simply' muse about literature 'in an occasional way'.... His sinecured dilettanti mass-produced 'curiosities of an existential or phenomenological criticism, or a Hegelian or a gestalt or indeed a Freudian criticism.' Burke, Empson et al. avoided indenture in the Curiosity Trade, Jameson argues, by processing literature in accordance with a personal interpretive ethos, one resonant with a nonsystemized theory nonetheless compulsively applied in a rage for symmetry. Jameson’s notion of a virtuoso critic (of the good camp) can be summed up thus: a thinker of original temperament but suitable Hegelian seriousness whose passion for patterns generates interesting reading of literary works. His notion of a virtouso critic (of the bad): calicified mind, learned but unoriginal and philosophically fickle, whose passions for other people’s patterns generates predictable readings of literary works..."
  • "I apologize for Heidegger’s highly convoluted and neologistic prose. (I imagine that some readers are already thinking, 'come back, Derrida, all is forgiven').... In Heidegger’s reading, we could say that the discovery of Neptune in 1846 could plausibly be described, from a strictly human vantage point, as the 'invention' of Neptune.... [B]efore we began to look for it, the planet 'Neptune' simply did not exist in any human consciousness.... And yet once humans had invented... Neptune, they understood [it]... as [a thing]... not susceptible to mere human invention..."
  • "[It] takes the already deeply problematic arguments and style of the dominant superstars like Spivak, Prakash and Bhabha and operationalizes it as yeoman-level banality"


There is a certain bloodlessness here: the dry bones hop about and clatter, but there is no flesh on them: much too little is said about how High Critical Theory changed--for good and for ill--how "we" "read" "our" "texts".2

So let me get down and dirty: in the boiler room, at the contact point, before the mast. Let me recount the two months--November and December 1981--that I spent enthralled by the High Critical Theory of Michel Foucault.

By day I would rise late, eat a strange late breakfast of scrambled eggs mixed with cottage cheese (a kind of breakfast which I ate only from November 1981 through January 1982, never before, and never since), and then walk across the Charles River footbridge to the Kress Collection of the History of Economic Thought in Baker Library. I would read. I would hasten out into the lobby where I was allowed pens and take notes. I would go back in and read some more. I would hasten out into the lobby. After dinner I would sit in my room, either staring at the wall wondering what my thesis was going to be about or reading secondary works on the history of economic thought, hoping to spot a hole that I could fill with something sorta original.

It was Associate Professor of Social Studies Michael Donnelly's fault. He knew I was trying to write an undergradute thesis about the British Classical Economists and how they understood the economy of their time. He gave me a book by Keith Tribe, Land, Labour, and Economic Discourse. And Tribe had read and been hypnotized by Foucault--specifically The Order of Things and _The Archaeology of Knowledge. I began to read Keith Tribe. He said very strange things. He said that the Wealth of Nations that economists read was not the Wealth of Nations that Adam Smith wrote. The Wealth of Nations that economists read was made up of two books: Book I on markets and Book II on capital. The Wealth of Nations that Adam Smith wrote was made up of five books: Book I on the "system of natural liberty," Book II on accumulation and the profits of stock, Book III on the economic history of Europe and why the empirical history of its economic development had diverged from its natural history, Book IV on the mercantile and physiocratic systems of political economy, and Book V on the proper management of the affairs of the public household by the statesman.

The Wealth of Nations, Tribe said, could not be a book of economics because a book of economics had to be about the economy. And there was no such thing as the economy in 1776 for a book of economics to be about. What was there? There was the undifferentiated stuff of the mixed social-cultural-political-trading system that governed production and distribution: material life. There was the study of the management of public finances. This was conceived in a manner analogous to the domestic-economic management of household finances. Just as--to Robert Filmer and others--the King was the father of the people, so the King's household--which became the state--had to be properly and prudently managed.

In the words of James Steuart, who wrote his Principles of Political Oeconomy nine years before the Wealth of Nations, in 1767: "Oeconomy, in general, is the art of providing for all the wants of a family, with prudence and frugality. What oeconomy is in a family, political oeconomy is in a state." It is managing affairs to make the people prosperous and the tax collections ample by governing "in such a manner as naturally to create the reciprocal relations and dependencies between [inhabitants], so as to make their several interests lead them to supply one another with their reciprocal wants."

There wasn't, Tribe argued, an economy that an economist could write a book of economics about until the 1820s or so.

Strip Tribe's (and Foucault's) arguments of their rhetoric of apparent contradiction and you can understand that within the mystical shell there is a rational kernel. It is--or, at least, I read them as--an injunction to analyze a school of thought in more-or-less the following way:

  1. Read not just one or two important books, but a whole bunch of books that talk to our past each other and use the same or similar vocabulary in order to identify the school you will look at.
  2. Strip your mind of what they must be talking about, and look with fresh eyes on what they are talking about.
  3. Examine what rhetorical, conceptual, and intellectual moves are common within the examples you have of this "discursive formation."
  4. Think hard about what rhetorical, conceptual, and intellectual moves you would think you would find in these books--but don't.
  5. Think hard about what rhetorical, conceptual, and intellectual moves you do not expect to find prominently in these books--but that you nevertheless do find.
  6. Present to the world, in as clear and straightforward a way as you can, what this particular form of discourse was--what it thought the world was like, what it saw as important, what its particular blindnesses were, what its particular sharp points of insight were.
  7. Do not, ever, grade a discursive formation of the past by how much it falls away from the ideas of the bien-pensant of today. The past is another country.

And I became convinced that Tribe and Foucault were right. It was, indeed, only with Ricardo that the operation of what we now say is the economy--the production, exchange, and distribution of goods and services all mediated through market exchange--was seen as something that was important enough, or separate enough, or coherent enough to be something that it made sense to write books about, and, indeed, something that it made sense to be an expert in. David Ricardo was a political economist. Adam Smith was a moral philosopher. To try--as somebody like Joseph Schumpeter was--to grade Adam Smith as if he were engaged in the same intellectual project as Schumpeter was somewhat absurd.

Tribe applied this methodology to Adam Smith, his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. What they were doing, before Ricardo, was Political Oeconomy--writing manuals of tactics and policy as advice to statesmen, although manuals restricted to what Adam Smith would have called (did call) a subclass of police: how to keep public order and create public prosperity. Hence for Adam Smith Book V of Wealth of Nations is the payoff: it tells British statesmen what they ought to do in order to make the nation prosperous, their tax coffers full, and thus the state well-funded. Book IV is a necessary prequel to Book V: it tells the statesmen in the audience why the advice that they are being given by others in other books of Political Oeconomy--by Mercantilists and Physiocrats. Book III is another necessary prequel: it teaches statesmen about the economic history of Europe and how political oeconomy of various kinds has been practiced in the past.

But Tribe's (and Foucault's) methodology collapses when we work back to Books II and I of the Wealth of Nations. For Adam Smith is not the prisoner of the discursive formation of Political Oeconomy. He is not the simple bearer of currents of thought and ideas that he recombines as other authors do in more-or-less standard and repeated ways. Adam Smith is a genius. He is the prophet and the master of a new discipline. He is the founder of economics.

Adam Smith is the founder of economics because he has a great and extraordinary insight: that the competitive market system is a remarkably powerful social calculating and organizing mechanism, and that the sophisticated division of labor to which a competitive market system backed up by secure and honest enforcement of property rights give rise is the key to the wealth of nations. Some others before had had this insight in part: Richard Cantillon writing of how once you have specified demands the market does by itself all the heavy lifting that a central planner would need to do; Bernard de Mandeville that dextrous management by a statesman can use the power of private greed to produce the benefit of public utility. But it is Smith who sees what the power of the "system of natural liberty" that is the market could be--and who follows the argument through to the conclusion that it forever upsets and overturns the previous intellectual moves made in and conclusions reached by the discursive formation of Political Oeconomy.

And once I had worked my way through to this conclusion, I could start to write my own thesis. I had broken the thralldom. Foucault's ideas of "discourse" and "archaeology" were not my masters, but my tools. And as I wrote it became very clear to me that between David Ricardo and even the later John Stuart Mill the discursive formation that was Classical Economics did not produce anybody like Adam Smith. There was nobody who made the intellectual leap--produced the epistemological break--that Smith had done that shattered Political Oeconomy and enabled the birth of Classical Economics. I could write my thesis about how the British Classical Economists never understood the Industrial Revolution that they were living through.

--J. Bradford DeLong, B.A. in Social Studies summa cum laude, June 1982.

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China's First Currency Revaluation Coming This Summer?

The Bush Administration tells the Congress that China will revalue its currency in the next two months: / World / US - US expects Chinese currency revaluation: By Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Balls in Washington, and Richard McGregor in Beijing: The Bush administration has told key senators that it expects China to revalue its currency in August ahead of a planned visit to Washington by President Hu Jintao in September, according to people familiar with the matter.

Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham, co-sponsors of a bill that would impose a 27.5 per cent tariff on Chinese imports, agreed to delay a vote on their bill after receiving what they regarded as an assurance that China will move on its currency next month.

In a June meeting attended by Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, John Snow, Treasury secretary, told the senators that he believed China would allow the value of the renminbi to increase against the dollar in August, the people familiar with the discussion said.... The US Treasury has told Beijing it needs to revalue the renminbi by at least 10 per cent against the dollar. Mr Snow reiterated on Thursday that the US wanted China to move “as soon as possible.”

China’s foreign exchange reserves increased by just over US$100bn in the first six months of this year to US$711bn, nearly double the rate at which its store of overseas currency rose in the same period last year. China is considering introducing a currency regime similar to the managed float operated by Singapore. Under this system the renminbi would be pegged to a basket of currencies reflecting the country's trade, but the details of the weights of the basket would not be made public, a person familiar with the Chinese administration's thinking said.

Tony Fratto, Treasury spokesman, said: “Secretary Snow did not provide an assurance on a specific time-frame for when China would reform its currency regime. Targeting a specific date or time-frame is counter-productive. That said, it is clear that China is prepared to move now. It would be in the best interests of China, and the global financial system, if these reforms came sooner rather than later.”...

The debate over the renminbi will be fuelled, in China as well as in the US, by news that the country's foreign exchange reserves increased by more than $100bn in the first six months of this year to $711bn. China's foreign reserves are on track to break $1,000bn by June next year if it continues to expand at the present rate.

China is a $2 trillion economy. That rate of reserve accumulation means that 10% of China's total income is being spent buying reserve assets--the overwhelming bulk of them dollar-denominated.

That is amazing...

How Much Slack in the Labor Market Today?

PGL at Angry Bear points me to Rex Nutting, who summarizes Katherine Bradbury's calculations on what the unemployment rate would be if labor force participation were behaving "normally":

Joblessness understated, Fed study says - Economy - Bond Market: Labor force participation rates have not rebounded By Rex Nutting, MarketWatch: The current low U.S. unemployment rate probably understates the true level of joblessness by 1 to 3 percentage points, the senior economist at the Boston Federal Reserve says. Millions of potential workers who dropped out of the labor force during the recession four years ago have not returned as expected and are thus not counted in the official unemployment statistics, said Katherine Bradbury in a paper published by the Boston Fed. The jobless rate fell to 5% in June the lowest level since the terror attacks of September 2001.

Labor force participation rates "have not recovered as much as usual and the discrepancies are large," she wrote. "Current low rates of labor market participation thus potentially represent considerable slack in the U.S. labor market," she wrote. The amount of slack in the economy is a key variable for Federal Reserve policymakers, who have been raising interest rates for more than a year to return rates to "neutral' levels. All things equal, the more slack in the economy, the lower rates ought to be.

Some policymakers have argued that the economy is close to full employment with the jobless rate at 5%, thus justifying higher rates to pre-empt inflationary pressures from building in a tight labor market. While the official unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 6.3% in June 2003 to 5% in June 2005, the labor force participation rate remains close to 15-year lows of 66%....

All of the improvement in participation rates during this recovery has come from people over 55, as more relatively healthy Baby Boomers enter this cohort. At the same time, participation rates for teenagers have fallen to 44% after averaging more than 50% during the 1990s boom. If labor force participation rates had improved as much during this recovery as typical, between 1.6 million and 5.1 million more people would be in the labor force, Bradbury concluded. If those people were counted in the labor force but not working, the jobless rate would have been somewhere between 6.5% and 8.7%, rather than the 5.4% reported by the Labor Department in the three months from November 2004 to February 2005. "An 8.7% unemployment rate would represent considerable slack in the labor market," Bradbury said.

As I say often, the pattern of long-term unemployment, labor force participation, anemic real wage gains, payroll employment numbers, and the behavior of weekly hours all suggest a weak labor market with considerable slack and unused labor resources. Only the unemployment rate tells a different story.

Why the unemployment rate tells a different story remains a great mystery.

Saying the D-Word More Loudly

Ben Bernanke gives a speech as Chair of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. It contains only one mention of the word "deficit": "One consequence of the strong income growth we are enjoying is higher than expected levels of tax collections so far this year, which if maintained with spending control will reduce the government's budget deficit for this year well below its projected level." It does not contain the phrase "national savings" or the phrase "current account" or the phrase "fiscal policy."

If Ben is going to be a success at CEA chair, he needs to say the D-world more often and more loudly than this. Bush plans to extend his tax cuts and fix the AMT are grossly inconsistent with any form of budget near-balance. Permanently and grossly unbalanced budgets lead, in the long run, to slow growth and high inflation. And in the short run our chances of solving our trade deficit problems by ourselves--and if we don't solve them by ourselves the market will solve them for us via deep recession or major financial crisis--are greatly increased if we balance our budget soon.

Here's his opening:

Council of Economic Advisers: Speeches and Statements: SKILLS, OWNERSHIP, AND ECONOMIC SECURITY: By Ben S. Bernanke, Ph.D. Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, at the American Enterprise Institute, July 12, 2005: Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I would like to begin with a few words on the state of the U.S. economy....

In brief, the economic recovery continues to be strong. With real GDP growth at 3.8 percent in both the fourth quarter of 2004 and the first quarter of 2005, last December's forecast of 3.4 percent real growth during 2005 appears to be on track, despite the challenges created by high oil prices. Professional forecasters outside the government take a similar view. The job market continues to strengthen as well. Payroll employment has increased by about 181,000 jobs per month during the first half of 2005.... The unemployment rate has been declining for two years and has now dropped to just 5.0 percent, the lowest since September 2001. Estimates of growth in wage and salary income have been revised upward substantially, raising the possibility that the labor market may be even stronger than we thought. One consequence of the strong income growth we are enjoying is higher than expected levels of tax collections so far this year, which if maintained with spending control will reduce the government's budget deficit for this year well below its projected level.

Inflation remains low by historical standards... core inflation remains stable. We expect the United States to continue to enjoy price stability over the next few years.

The market for residential housing has been remarkably strong.... While speculative behavior appears to be surfacing in some local markets, strong economic fundamentals are contributing importantly to the housing boom. These fundamentals include low mortgage rates, rising employment and incomes, a growing population, and limited supply of homes or land in some areas.... [O]ur best defenses against potential problems in housing markets are vigilant lenders and banking regulators, together with perspective and good sense on the part of borrowers.

In all, we are in the midst of a healthy and sustainable economic expansion. Aided by the President's policies and low interest rates, the economy has recovered from an investment bubble, recession, corporate scandals, terrorism and war. Perhaps most importantly, these developments re-confirm the importance of having a flexible, market-based economy...

Whiskey Bar: End of the Line

More from the Whiskey Bar:

Whiskey Bar: End of the Line: I realize nobody cares about this any more -- since it has no obvious connection to Plamegate -- but the official (or at least semi-official) death notice for Shrub's Social Security "reform" fiasco has been quietly printed:

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) now thinks he may not begin consideration of Social Security legislation until September, an aide said. Thomas told an Associated Press reporter yesterday that, "The issue is dealing with more time-sensitive legislation first." He said Social Security "is not time-sensitive..."

It appears the Keystone Cops... haven't been able to decide which version of "reform" to get behind -- "ponies for everybody" (private accounts without benefit cuts or tax increases) or "root canal work for the middle class" (benefit cuts and tax increases with private accounts.) Thomas's stealth approach -- SS privatization would have been packaged with a grab bag of private pension goodies -- was the last hope for getting any kind of legislation this year that Bush could sign without putting a paper bag over his head.

But, despite the looming horror of a Social Security meltdown that would end civilization as we know it... the issue apparently is no longer "time sensitive".... So that's it. It's over: with the whimper instead of the bang.

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (Dick Armey Edition)

Former Majority Leader Dick Armey is a weathervane:

Think Progress:

Dick Armey'9s Hypocrisy on CIA Leak Case

Appearing on Fox this morning, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey said the following.... "We%'ve got Karl Rove, who is under this constant attack of political malarkey, who has probably the most documented case of his evidence of anyone in the the whole story. So quite frankly, I think the American people are seeing it for what it is right now. More than anything else it's a political farce not a matter of national security interests. [Fox News, 7/14/05]


Dick Armey... in October 2003.... "Now, there was no reason to tell the world about the ambassador's wife. It was just a short-sighted, self-centered, simple-minded cowardly act of revenge, and who's paying the cost? The Bush White House.... If they ever find [the leakers], they ought to just -- they ought to just kick them out of the White House and prosecute them, because... the greater the pretension, the greater the hypocrisy. [CNN, 10/19/03]

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (Think Karl! Think! Department)

The Minuteman is disappointed in Karl Rove:

JustOneMinute: Novak Talked To Rove: [T]he AP and the WaPo chat with lawyers close to the investigation, and here we go. But these leaks don't fully square with the Times, and have ghastly bits:

The AP:

Rove told the grand jury that by the time Novak had called him, he believes he had similar information about Wilson's wife from another reporter but had no recollection of which reporter had told him about it first, the source said.

The WaPo:

The lawyer, who has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors, said President Bush's deputy chief of staff has told investigators that he first learned about the operative from a journalist and that he later learned her name from Novak. Rove has said he does not recall who the journalist was who first told him that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, or when the conversation occurred, the lawyer said.

Oh my goodness - we are going with the "I Forgot" defense. Oh, boy. Look, the question of how Karl learned this is important. Think, Karl! Be the genius we know you are!

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Come To Scenic Niger Boondoggle Department)

Hilzoy has some words about the gullibility of Washington Post reporters:

Obsidian Wings: Come To Scenic Niger!: Having made my views on the Plame/Rove matter as clear as I can... I thought I might mention instead one aspect of the whole thing that has always struck me as really funny, namely, this:

"On July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction."

A boondoggle. To Niger.... [T]hese words alone should have sent you into gales of laughter.... Getting there is no fun. Travelocity tells me that to fly from JFK to Niamey takes over 38 hours (via London and Paris), but, oddly, only a little over 20 coming back (via Ouagadougou, Casablanca, and Paris)....

What do you find when you arrive? Sand, mostly. About 80% of Niger is the Sahara desert. If you google-image Niger, you will find a lot of photos of SUVs up to their axles in sand in the middle of a trackless waste, with titles like "and this is our off-road vehicle, stuck in the sand!" It's normally bone-dry, and getting worse because of desertification, about which the Lonely Planet Guide writes: "The ratio of desert to semi-desert is ever increasing, and there is a danger that the country may, one day, disappear under a blanket of sand." These days they are having not only a drought but a plague of locusts. I don't know whether Niger was having a drought when Joe Wilson went there, although, as a friend of mine asked me over dinner, in the Sahara, how could you tell?

Even without drought and locusts, Niger is desperately poor. According to the World Bank (Table 1.1), Niger's GDP was $200/year in 2003; alarmingly, there were ten countries that were even worse off. On the Human Development Index (pdf), which measures quality of life more generally, it's second to last, just ahead of Sierra Leone.

Second to last in the world. Think about it. According to the World Bank, life expectancy is 46.4 years (and that's without a serious AIDS problem); more than one in seven infants die; more than one in four children die by five; and the adult literacy rate is around 18%. That's not just poor; that's a disaster...

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?

Kevin Drum writes:

The Washington Monthly: Paul Krugman says exactly what needs to be said.

If there's any single thing that I hold against George Bush more than any other, it's the way that, with almost animal instinct, he decided within days of 9/11 to use it as nothing more than a routine opportunity to destroy his domestic enemies, rather than as a unique and fleeting chance to unite the country and destroy our foreign enemies. That tawdry instinct came from Karl Rove and people like him, and it's that instinct that is destroying the modern Republican party. Someday the few remaining grownup conservatives will figure that out.

And here's Krugman:

Karl Rove's America - New York Times: What Mr. Rove understood, long before the rest of us, is that we're not living in the America... where even partisans sometimes changed their views when faced with the facts. Instead, we're living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth. In particular, there are now few, if any, limits to what conservative politicians can get away with: the faithful will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern.

I first realized that we were living in Karl Rove's America during the 2000 presidential campaign, when George W. Bush began saying things about Social Security privatization and tax cuts that were simply false. At first, I thought the Bush campaign was making a big mistake - that these blatant falsehoods would be condemned by prominent Republican politicians and Republican economists, especially those who had spent years building reputations as advocates of fiscal responsibility. In fact, with hardly any exceptions they lined up to praise Mr. Bush's proposals.

But the real demonstration that Mr. Rove understands American politics better than any pundit came after 9/11. Every time I read a lament for the post-9/11 era of national unity, I wonder what people are talking about. On the issues I was watching, the Republicans' exploitation of the atrocity began while ground zero was still smoldering. Mr. Rove has been much criticized for saying that liberals responded to the attack by wanting to offer the terrorists therapy - but what he said about conservatives, that they "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war," is equally false. What many of them actually saw was a domestic political opportunity - and none more so than Mr. Rove. A less insightful political strategist might have hesitated right after 9/11 before using it to cast the Democrats as weak on national security. After all, there were no facts to support that accusation. But Mr. Rove understood that the facts were irrelevant. For one thing, he knew he could count on the administration's supporters to obediently accept a changing story line. Read the before-and-after columns by pro-administration pundits about Iraq: before the war they castigated the C.I.A. for understating the threat posed by Saddam's W.M.D.; after the war they castigated the C.I.A. for exaggerating the very same threat. Mr. Rove also understands, better than anyone else in American politics, the power of smear tactics. Attacks on someone who contradicts the official line don't have to be true, or even plausible, to undermine that person's effectiveness. All they have to do is get a lot of media play...

Airlifting Harry Potter Copies in by Chopper...

The kids are back from their summer camp, which was featured in this morning's New York Times as Andrew Townsend and company grapple with the Harry Potter crisis: Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Summer Camper By EDWARD WYATT: The boys and girls at the Kennolyn Camps in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California will get a most unusual wake-up call on Saturday. Roused from their beds at 6:30 a.m., more than an hour earlier than usual, they will be marched to a campfire meeting, served hot chocolate from a bubbling cauldron and read the first chapter of the new Harry Potter novel by counselors dressed as characters from that popular series.

Few of the campers - or their counselors, 18-to-25-year-olds who have spent the last seven years following Harry Potter's adventures - are likely to complain, said Andrew Townsend, the camps' director.

"We haven't announced it to the kids yet, but we announced the plans to the staff last week, and I was surprised at how excited they were," he said. "We figured it would be one of those great camp memories, listening to Harry Potter in the redwoods as the sun rises."

Around the country, many camps that over the years have dealt with every imaginable contingency are facing a first-time event this week: how to please campers eager to dive into the latest Harry Potter. In this case it is "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth novel in the series by the British author J. K. Rowling, to be released around the world early Saturday just after midnight.

While all five of the earlier novels were published in summer or early fall, most arrived either before the traditional summer camp season or at a time when the frenzy surrounding a Harry Potter debut was more subdued. As a result, many camps are having to make special plans to deal with the book's arrival...

Why I Am a Utilitarian...

The witty, erudite, and highly intelligent Julian Sanchez convinces me that I would be insane were I to prioritize liberty over utility: that I am right to be a utilitarian:

Reason: Save Me From Myself!: Parentalism and the fear of freedom: I had not expected to see non-smokers attacking the ban on principle locked in debate with smokers who, between languorous puffs and grey exhalations, welcomed it as a means of reducing their own smoking. If the argument... sounds strange, it is not, at any rate, rare. When New York City was mulling its own smoking ban, one young "man on the street" interviewee told the Village Voice: "I'd actually be all for it, which is odd since I am a smoker myself. I think it might make me smoke less. The increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes hasn't stopped me from smoking. I just have friends who come up to visit from Florida bring cartons for me."...

We are all, sometimes, afflicted with akrasia, those attacks of weak will that lead us to satisfy fleeting desires at the expense of our own acknowledged long-term interests. Like Ulysses lashed to the mast, we empty the pantry of sweets, hire pricey personal trainers, join rehab groups, or loudly announce an intention to start working on that novel, knowing how embarrassed we'll feel if there's no progress to report when a friend asks how it's coming.... There may even be ways for government to help us combat akrasia without overly restricting our freedoms.... [P]hilosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah offers... the example of the "self management card." When we go shopping for smokes or fatty foods or alcohol or a dose of heroin, Appiah imagines, the store is required to swipe our cards to ensure we haven't gone over a self-imposed limit.... Normal and necessary as these akrasia-countering mechanisms may be, though, they may also be symptoms of what Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan has dubbed "parentalism."... Parentalism... emerges when we begin to suspect that we ourselves are not competent to make our own choices, to yearn for someone to relieve us of the burden of choice.... The thought is not novel to Buchanan. Jean-Paul Sartre described the "anguish" that comes with our realization that we are "condemned to be free." Marxist psychologist Erich Fromm diagnosed the totalitarian movements of the 20th century as symptoms of an urge to "escape from freedom," from the displacement of a feudal world in which identities were given--a place for everyone, and everyone in his place--with a capitalist order that made who we were and what we were to become seem dizzyingly contingent....

[T]he true parentalist wants to escape not just the burdens of the act of choosing, but the responsibility for making a poor choice. Voluntary market mechanisms for filtering or restraining choice... allow us only to defer responsibility, not avoid it.... But perhaps a more important problem with parentalism is that it licenses what Sartre called "bad faith," the attempt to avoid the burdens of responsibility by denying our own freedom. Classical liberals may even inadvertently encourage this by speaking of responsibility as "the other side" of freedom, as though it were the spinach that had to be cleared away before getting to desert. But is that really so? When we make trivial choices--what to have for dinner, what movie to see, which CD to buy--what we most value is the freedom to select without constraint from many options. Yet when it comes to our most central choices--what kind of person am I to be, what work will I find rewarding?--we may take as least as much satisfaction in the feeling of responsibility for our choices, in knowing that we have shaped a life that is ours even when we have chosen badly.

Classical liberals have become good at explaining how the market order they favor promotes freedom and happiness. They have been less adept at explaining why--at least past a certain point--people ought to want that freedom, which when genuine is always at least a little frightening. In the face of the parentalist impulse, we may need to develop the case that our bad choices, the choices that make us unhappy, are as vital and precious as the ones that bring us joy.

My mind explodes when I read Julian's command to "take as least as much satisfaction in the feeling of responsibility for our choices, in knowing that we have shaped a life that is ours even when we have chosen badly." It is the libertarian version of the old communist story:

Speaker: After the revolution we will all eat strawberries and cream.
Worker: But I don't like strawberries and cream!
Speaker: After the revolution you will eat strawberries and cream--and like it!

I See the Stars at Bloody Warrs in the Wounded Welkin Weeping

Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes about Poul Anderson:

Making Light: Loss of suspension: ...that terrible moment when you see too far into the emotional strategies of a work of fiction, and it falls dead for you. There's no retrieving it. That moment of insight recolors all your previous readings, so that what was once fascinating is now just painful.

I've only ever seen one instance where it was salvaged. When I was a kid, I happily read Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry stories. When I got older they turned to ashes in my mouth,1 around the time I noticed what a shallow manipulative SOB Flandry is, and how often his exploits are paid for by the women in his vicinity. Then, much later, Poul Anderson paid off the series's debts in full with the stark and (in my opinion) underrated A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.

I was long past being a kid by then, certainly past believing that writers have any obligation to deserve the trust we give them; so the sense of relief and reassurance I felt came as a complete surprise. It surprises me still....

I had always thought that being a shallow manipulative SOB was part of the main point of the Flandry stories. He is cynical, corrupt, shallow, decadent, self-absorbed, lecherous. Yet when the choice comes--when there is a chance to do something that will delay by a month or so the Long Night of the barbarians that will come after the fall of the cruel, unjust, murderous, rapacious Terran Empire--Flandry does find that he is a patriot, and that truly dulce et decorum pro patria mori. The decadent sybarite stands up like Horatius at the Gate, grabs his spear to face impossible odds, and declaims:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods...?"

For me, the frustrating narrative hole was always Flandry's insufficient motivation: Why is this decadent sybarite also Horatius at the Gate? (Let's not ask why Macaulay is impelled to write the poems that Romans would have written had the Romans been illiterate Scots.)

So for me, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows did not lift any burden, but seemed more like a bizarre hall of mirrors. Dominic Flandry falling in True Love? The lifetime appreciator of High Culture and defender of the possibility of civilization turning into the Greatest Vandal of All Time? Flandry in this book is a different man from the Flandry in earlier books. It's not good to write a story in which a new character inhabits the skin and bears the name of an old one.

And what possible reason--save that of transparent plot device to set up a cruel dilemma--could Flandry's son ever have had to learn the location of Aycharaych's homeworld? Not to mention the disproportion of the response: to answer an uncovered espionage-and-assassination plot with large cross-border destructive raids by battlefleets is a dangerous climbing of the ladder of escalation. It is not something that the Roidhunate of Merseia would ever have taken lying down.

The jerky clockwork was, to me at least, much more visible and the suspension of disbelief much less possible in A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows than in the other Flandry stories.

Yet more evidence that reading is something that takes place between the ears. Your mileage can and will vary widely...

By contrast, Tau Zero. Now there is a science-fiction novel!

1They turned to ashes in my mouth too, but for very different reasons. For me, it was the cheap Cold War polemics. Flandry is fighting to delay the victory of the barbarians--to keep the star-spanning civilization alive a little longer, so that life can be less nasty, brutish, and short. Enter the Roidhunate of Merseia, a young expanding civilization and species confident in itself: strong and aggressive. Who better to pass the torch too? Who better to hold back the Long Night? Yes, the Roidhunate has enormous flaws. But are they worse than the flaws of the Terran Empire?

That's not how Poul Anderson plays it. He plays it like this: Merseia = Russia. "Peaceful coexistence" is impossible. Those who say that Brezhnev is not Stalin = deluded fools. Those who propose detente with Merseia or even a watchful peace rather that recognizing that permanent, total war has already begun = Commie-loving unpatriotic American liberals like Henry Kissinger.

Thus what starts as a meditation on variations on themes from the Age of Septimius Severus turns into a John Birch Society tract. It simply does not fit. If the major theme is that defending the Bad is necessary to hold back the Worst, you cannot suddenly intrude American Angels vs. Russian Commie Devils without causing... laughter.

Yet more evidence that reading is something that takes place between the ears...

Dials Moving Into the Red Zone

At the end of 2000 I said that while the U.S. trade deficit was a worry, there was still plenty of time to deal with it. It was very important that it be resolved by the world economy "balancing up" rather than "balancing down." And I would have put the chance of a major dollar-based financial crisis at only one-in-a-thousand.

By the end of 2003 I said that the chance of a major dollar-based financial crisis was one-in-a-hundred, and it was time for keeping that probability from growing any higher to become the highest economic policy priority.

By the end of 2004 I thought that the chance of a major dollar-based financial crisis was one-in-ten.

Now I think that the chances are one-in-five. It is still possible that we may escape unscathed: the dollar could fall by nearly half without foreigners ever demanding an expected-depreciation premium in interest rates, the foreign currency-denominated value of U.S. foreign debt could melt away, and the exchange rate stage could drive an export-driven boom that brought trade into balance as higher import prices shrunk imports. We did it in the late 1980s, after all--although starting from a disequilibrium only half as large as our current one.

Brad Setser writes:

Brad Setser's Web Log: Don't worry, be happy. Trade deficits do not matter so long as US hhousehold wealth is rising: Michael Mandel thinks I am making a big mistake, albeit a very, very common one - worrying about rising US external debt rather than celebrating rising US household wealth.

Brad is making the very very common mistake of taking the value of U.S. assets--that is, our wealth--as a fixed number, so that everything that goes to foreigners is less for Americans. That is, he's treated wealth as a zero-sum game.

In fact, U.S. wealth has historically grown at a pace which far exceeds the size of the current account deficit. As the economic pie gets bigger, there's enough to feed our foreign friends while keeping an ever-growing piece for ourselves.

Since 1952 household net worth--that is, assets minus liabilities--has increased by an average of 7.4% annually, or 3.7% in real terms. That includes real estate booms and real estate busts, bull markets and bear markets. This annual percentage gain translates into a huge increase in net worth, in dollars. Household net worth today is just under $50 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

...If US household wealth is rising, should we worry if US external debt is also rising?... [W]hat would happen if US... long-term rates... were to rise substantially?... Too much of US household wealth depends on the interest rate for me to feel very comfortable. At some point, the United States foreign creditors are likely to want an interest rate high enough to compensate them for the risk of future dollar depreciation. A country that outsources savings will likely have to offer foreign investors a positive real return (over time) in terms of their local currency, not in dollar terms....

The US likely will have a current account deficit of close to 7% of GDP by the end of 2005, and even if that deficit started to fall, the US would still need to finance a very large current account deficit for some time. That might not be much fun if interest rates were high.

Of course, there are scenarios where the US trade deficit falls and US interest rates stay low. For example, the US consumer could give out, pushing the US economy into a recession.... But low interest rates, constant household wealth, no growth and stagnant (if not falling) household income is hardly a comforting prospect....

The US net international investment position... is likely to be more like 30% of US GDP at the end of 2005. And it is poised to keep on rising so long as the US runs large trade deficits. Exports as a share of US GDP, in contrast, are no higher now than they were in 1997, when the US had a lot less external debt. I think that matters. Remember that external debt ultimately is a claim on the United States future export revenue. New homes -- and higher prices on existing homes -- won't help pay the interest on the US external debt. A new Boeing production line would.... It is not clear that the United States capacity to generate future export revenue to pay its external debt is set to rise as fast as its external debt looks likely to rise. Call me old fashioned. I think the external debt to exports ratio still matters.

Why Grassley Can't Move

Senator Grassley sees no way forward on Social Security:

Radio Iowa: Grassley says Social Security reform stalled: Republicans on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee can't agree on how to reform Social Security, and the panel's chairman, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, says they may be close to failure, though he says he's not giving up yet. Grassley, a Republican, says most Democrats agree Social Security is in sad shape, but he says no one's coming up with any better ideas on how to fix the program.

Grassley says "There's no point in us doing anything until we get Democrats to the table and if we don't get Democrats to the table then we might not do anything because, right now, there hasn't been a single Democrat, either on the issues of solvency or personal accounts, come to the table to talk about anything." Grassley has proposed a bill he says would slow the growth of Social Security benefits for most workers while raising the retirement age and freezing the maximum benefit for the nation's highest-paid workers, but he says it's stalled. Grassley says "We're kind of in a situation where, considering the fact it's impossible to get anything through the Senate that's not bipartisan, we could be at a standstill on the issue of Social Security even though 100 senators know there's a problem we have to deal with." He says he'll continue to work toward consensus on the key elements, like solvency and personal accounts, with the issue going before the committee again on Thursday.

Grassley's problem is that whatever deals he strikes in the Senate will be reversed when the bill goes to the conference committee. He needs a commitment from the Republican House leadership that they will pass the Senate bill unaltered. That's where the breakdown of legislative process has gotten us. That's a piece of paper Grassley needs to have in his hand before he can move anything that isn't partisan posturing out of his committee.

It would be nice if some print journalist somewhere would write something about how the present gridlock is in large part a result of the use made of conference committees since the start of 2001.

Ivo Daalder Is Really Shrill

Ivo Daalder is really shrill:

TPMCafe || No Treaties, No Summits, No Diplomacy: Let me get this straight: our secretary of state, having "made no secret of her desire to cut down on the routine summitry that clogs the calendar of top diplomat," has decided to skip the annual meeting of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- the first time in 20 years America's top diplomat won't be there.

Apparently, we not only don't do treaties in this administration, we now also don't do summits. And, of course, we've never done diplomacy. So can someone please tell me why we have a secretary of state?

Utter Stupidity

Matthew Yglesias observes that the competition among National Review writers for the "stupidest man alive" crown is quite fierce:

TPMCafe || Light, Sweet, Canadian Crude: ...yet another person who doesn't seem to understand how oil markets work... James S. Robbins in National Review Online: is both a critical requirement for the U.S. economy, and also an element of national power.... The United States should exploit its power by... imposing free market discipline on the oil bazaar. The OPEC cartel would be the ultimate target of this strategic focus.... Diminishing or ending OPEC's influence over the oil market... tax incentives for non-OPEC purchases... outright restrictions on importation of OPEC oil. The United States should also... shift [oil] purchases away from unstable regions.... Dollars flowing to Canada or Norway, for example, are unlikely to be converted into national security threats....

[O]il is a global commodity sold on an open market.... [W]e don't... import a huge proportion of our oil from the Middle East... the Middle East is closer to Europe and East Asia... it doesn't make a huge amount of sense to ship Middle Eastern crude all the way over here.... That notwithstanding, if we shifted our purchases away from the Middle East even further, we would only crowd out buyers of non-ME oil and lead them to increase their purchases of Middle Eastern oil. The only relevant features of the situation are global demand and global supply. Even a country that doesn't import any Middle Eastern oil -- indeed, even a country that doesn't import any oil at all -- would still see prices skyrocket in the wake of a major supply disruption in Saudi Arabia...

Yet more conclusive proof that being not-stupid, or even being stupid and yet knowing something, is a positive disability as far as writing for National Review is concerned. People who are not-stupid are unlikely to be able to make whatever arguments the Bush administration wants made today with a straight face. People who are stupid yet who know something are likely to slip, and accidently say something about the world that's inconsistent with Bush fantasies.

From the standpoint of the editors of National Review, only those who are both stupid and enmeshed in fantasy are safe.

Our Political Press: A Bunch of Stenographers?

Let me pick a small bone with what Matthew Yglesias writes about the Washington press corps

TPMCafe || Ooo! Questions!: In my experience, a lot of blogospheric commentary on the media grants the reporters who write these stories all too much agency. Insofar as I've had any conversations with people who cover the White House, or even conversations with people who work with people who cover the White House, this is a group of pretty sharp people who have a pretty good grasp of what's going on. It just isn't reflected in their stories. Not because they secretly love George W. Bush or pray to Dick Cheney idols in the corners of their bedrooms but because they define their job in a very narrow, rather misguided kind of way.

The Bush team has gotten remarkable good press because they understand the mechanism by which newspaper political coverage is generated and have successfully devised means of systematically manipulating that mechanism. Editors and reporters have it in their power, of course, to change the way the mechanism works (and they should do it!), but they're not going to wake up one day and do it just because they're mad at Karl Rove.

The issues here, fundamentally, run much deeper than the subjective attitudes of the press corps vis-à-vis the White House. It has to do with the conception of journalism as primarily a stenographic activity, concerned with duly recording official statements and, perhaps, balancing those statements with contradictory quotations from official or quasi-official members of the opposition....

I disagree. I think that the press does have considerable agency--that it is not acting as a stenographer, but as an unindicted co-conspirator with the Slime Machine. Let me give two examples.

The first comes from the Washington Post, a quote from a story by Mike Allen published on January 11, 2004 on page A-13:

O'Neill: Plan to Hit Iraq Began Pre-9/11: A senior administration official said O'Neill's "suggestion that the administration was planning an invasion of Iraq days after taking office is laughable. Nobody listened to him when he was in office. Why should anybody now?"

Here Mike Allen isn't being a stenographer--isn't taking down what his sources are saying in their normal course. Allen is... taking dictation of a poison-pen letter: printing something that his source does not dare say in his own proper persona, for attribution. He's not a victim. He's an active co-conspirator.

The second example also comes from the Washington Post, a story by Jonathan Weisman and Ben White, "Bush's Social Security Plan Assumes Much from Stocks," printed on page E1 on February 9, 2005. It is one that I know extremely well indeed.

Weisman and White write about the Bush administration's claim that its private-accounts proposals are a good deal for beneficiaries because expected real stock returns are 6.5% per year. Weisman and White write of: a heated debate among economists, who divide sharply between those who believe the stock market cannot meet the president's expectations and those who say investor demand from a faster-growing developing world will keep stock prices rising...

Which economists? On my side--the side of those who believe that slow projected growth and high projected equity returns are inconsistent^--Weisman and White list a whole bunch of us.

And on the other side? They have Social Security actuary Steve Goss. They have "Bush's Council of Economic Advisers... [which] predicted that gains from the stock market, over the long term, will continue to be healthy." And they have unnamed "White House economists [who] say [DeLong's] calculations are absurd because they ignore global economic growth and investment in countries unaffected by the demographic slowdown." Only those who work for Bush endorse the administration's 6.5% projected equity return.

Moreover, even their endorsement is--call it qualified. I've been told that people would appreciate it if I were careful and drew a distinction: "say that the executive branch accepts the 6.5% forecast of the Social Security actuary, but don't say that the executive branch made the forecast." And whatever White House economist says that our calculations are "absurd"--well, he won't say it to our faces--or even with his name attached--perhaps because claiming in public that bad news about economic growth is not bad news about stock returns is a seriously career-limiting move.

Thus once again we have Washington Post reporters who do not fit inside the box of "stenographer." Presumably Bush's White House economists drew the same distinctions talking to Weisman and White that they did talking to me--that they accept the 6.5% forecast but do not endorse it. That's why Weisman and White say that the CEA projects that stock returns "will continue to be healthy" and don't say that the CEA projects that real stock returns will average the 6.5% per year assumed in the Social Security plan. You have to read carefully to notice that the CEA and Steve Goss are not aligned: that's not stenography. And, once again, there's the poison-pen element: if Weisman and White had asked to attach a name to the quote, they wouldn't have gotten the word "absurd" into the article. That's not stenography either.

So I don't think that Matthew Yglesias is correct in saying that the Washington political press corps goes astray because they conceive of journalism as primarily a stenographic activity. Stenographers do not write in a code ("continue to be healthy") that only those who read their morning papers with Talmudic intensity will crack. Stenographers do not take poison-pen dictation. Stenographers do not conspire with sources to juice up their stories at the expense of telling things as they really happened.

Say corruption or cynicism or editorial pressure for sizzle or laziness or apathy. Don't say "stenography."

^For the current last word on this, see and

Anne of a Thousand Days

Miriam Burstein is reading an awful lot of novels about Ann Bullen:

The Little Professor: Anne Boleyn, Ongoing: [Y]ou hope against hope that Anne Boleyn might keep her head, just this once--not out of any particular sympathy for her position, but because you begin to yearn for a little variety in the plotline.*... [F]ifteen novels in, the potential directions for the final article have begun to crystallize. We have representations of Anne, and then we have the questions those representations raise.... [W]hile some historical novelists clearly see themselves as doing full-fledged historical research (e.g., Mary Renault), many are simply trying to do enough research. Enter Anne Boleyn. When last I wrote, I noted that the links between these novels--mostly historical romances--and the actual scholarship on Anne were sometimes difficult to locate. It's now become even clearer that the Anne of the historical romances has become a self-perpetuating entity. We have a "received" Anne, who is given to hysteria, often sexually frigid (albeit flirtatious for reasons of policy), and improperly ambitious, but nevertheless innocent.... The occasional deviations from this Anne--either Annes who behave relatively sensibly or Annes who have sex lives apart from Henry VIII--cannot be explained by reference to historical scholarship; they're products of narrative necessity....

And then there are problems relating both to narrative structure and to popular ideas of historical agency. We're in the world of historical romances, after all, and historical romances usually involve, er, romance.... True Love (or Twu Wuv?).... Obviously, this sort of generic imperative poses certain obstacles for a novel about Anne Boleyn, given such inconveniences as political machinations, Catherine of Aragon, Henry's notoriously wandering eye, Jane Seymour, and the minor problem of Anne winding up rather reduced in height.... [A]ll of the novels have imposed some very twentieth-century notions about marriage for love, public vs. private behavior, and domestic space as an ideally depoliticized "private sphere" on sixteenth-century maneuverings that firmly resist any such scripts.... I cannot see how Henry VIII's married life can be rewritten as a "private" affair; all of his machinations in that area make hash of our own public/private distinctions. If anything, "the personal is the political" takes on new meaning when applied to [Henry's] relationship with Anne....

[A]ll of these novels... are effectively "post-Christian": none of them represents a world in which Catholicism might be both omnipresent and taken for granted. Characters tend to be either saints... or the equivalent of Thomas Huxley (somewhat early in the historical record, to be sure).... With just two or three exceptions, Anne is always represented as being a skeptic with a purely opportunistic interest in Lutheranism; Henry VIII, however, is usually diagnosed with a bad case of Bulstrodism.**... At the same time, the novelists are acutely conscious of the divorce's momentous importance for English national history. They thus have to balance hindsight with the characters' own cluelessness--or, alternatively, they grant the major players some awareness of the importance of their decisions.... I'm wondering to what extent this strategy is meant to somehow mitigate the narrative's tragic effect.

And so, onward. Still looking to finish up the novels before the beginning of fall.

*--Actually, there is a novella in which Anne stays alive: Nancy Kress' "And Wild for to Hold."

**--"There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs." (Middlemarch, ch. LXI).

Clearly I have to go read Nancy Kress's "And Wild for to Hold."

Four Out of Five Indicators Say the Job Market Really Is Weak

General Glut writes:

General Glut's Globblog: Yes, the job market really is weak: A small debate has ensued between James Hamilton of Econbrowser and Pro-Growth Liberal of Angry Bear over the interpretation of recent employment data, with the central dispute over whether current employment levels are 'good enough'.

Rather than wrestling over the distorting effects of teenage employment or the question of whether a return to the total employment levels of 2000 is either realistic or desirable, I suggest focusing in on a group of workers who over time are almost always in need of work, who do not wax and wane with educational or retirement opportunities, nor with social trends toward greater workforce participation rates: men age 25-64.

The below graph shows the quarterly employment-to-population ratio without seasonal adjustment for men age 25-64, from 1977:I to 2005:II. As you can clearly see, at the peak of the last two economic cycles the ratio topped out in the 85.5-86.0 range. Currently the level is just 83.2, right where it was three years ago and nowhere close to the levels of the late 1990s.

Perhaps more distressingly, today's EP ratio is still below the 4-quarter moving average trough of the mid-1990s and around the levels of the early-1980s trough (save the disaster of 1983:I). The chart also shows that the late 1990s was hardly an anomaly in terms of employment for "working age" men. In fact, the late 1990s saw a slightly lower peak than the late 1980s did.I think there's no doubt about it: this job "recovery" needs a recovery of its own.

It's not just employment-to-population ratios. It's real wage growth. It's the relative amount of long-term unemployment. It's payroll employment. We have four of five indicators telling us that the state of the job market is not that good and only one--the unemployment rate--reading green.

Laugher Curve

PGL of Angry Bear writes:

Angry Bear: Thoma v. Luskin: The recent good news on tax revenues has led to renewed discussions of Laffer's cocktail napkin. For good rebuttals, see Mark Thoma and Paul Krugman

Of course, Donald Luskin has attempted a rebuttal of Krugman. Luskin cannot deny that tax revenues have fallen so he provides a graph of projected nominal Federal tax revenues where revenues in 2009 was projected to be 10% higher than they were in 2000. You might be wondering what his graph would have looked liked had it been constructed in terms of real Federal revenues per capita. Our graph shows the 1991 to 2004 historical record. And if one deflates the 2009 estimate by prices and express it in per capita terms, projected real Federal revenues per capita for 2009 would still be below the 2000 level. Mr. Luskin knows this, but he's hoping his readers are too stupid to understand the simple point.

One really does wonder what the editors and writers of National Review think that they are doing. Tactical advantage on transitory political issues is--as it must be--transitory. Loss of credibility is forever.

Toyota Votes with Its Feet for the Canadian Model

Brayden King observes Toyota voting with its feet for the Canadian rather than the American model:

Pub Sociology: More concern about the costs of employing U.S. workers: Via the apostropher and Blog on the Run, I found this story about a new Toyota plant being built in Woodstock, Ontario... despite the offer of millions of dollars in subsidies to put the plant in the U.S.... Toyota is tired of training ignorant (i.e. illiterate) American workers, and the second is that in the long run it's cheaper to operate in Canada because of the reduction in corporate health care costs.

Industry experts say Ontarians are easier and cheaper to train - helping make it more cost-efficient to train workers when the new Woodstock plant opens in 2008, 40 kilometres away from its skilled workforce in Cambridge. "The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States," said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association....

He said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment....

In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson.

"Most people don't think of our health-care system as being a competitive advantage," he said.

...Universal health care might not be the anti-business gateway to socialism that some on the right want you to believe.... Other countries increasingly have a comparative advantage in production industries because their workers are better trained (or at least as well trained) and less costly.... [P]art of the U.S. disadvantage comes because the standard of living in the U.S. is so much higher... but if we offer a superior level of human capital we should be able to find a niche... when even that advantage begins to deteriorate (AND health care costs serve as a disincentive), we should be worried.

No Wonder George W. Bush Likes Tommy Franks

Phil Carter assigns us summer reading:

INTEL DUMP - Relearning old lessons the hard way: In the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, you can find my review of Sean Naylor's brilliant book "Not a Good Day to Die" -- a chronicle of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle fought thus far by U.S. forces in Afghanistan... a damn good read... this book belongs on your bookshelf.... [T]here are also many lessons to be learned...

In the weeks leading up to Anaconda, intelligence officers thought they had learned everything.... But disturbing rumors persisted that there might be more.... As it turned out, there may have been 10 times as many, and they weren't just in the valley but on the tactically crucial high ground above.... [W]rites Naylor, "[chief planner Maj. Paul Wilie] acknowledged that writing the plan had been such a painful process of compromise and negotiation that nobody could face the prospect of tearing it up... simply because the enemy might not be where they were supposed to be."

Perhaps the biggest problem was the Rube Goldberg command structure created by Gen. Franks. The war was run from Tampa... by video teleconferencing. Decisions were made by committee and on Eastern Standard Time... with an eye towards how the decisions would be briefed to the press at the Pentagon. Naylor quotes a deputy commanding general...

"When SecDef started having a [press] briefing every day, it meant that for hours of that day you could not talk to the CENTCOM staff... to make a decision at CENTCOM because they were tied up prepping themselves for the SecDef's briefing.... They had a morning telephone call... an afternoon telephone call... for a couple of hours before that telephone call, you could not get [Gen. Franks's directors of operations or intelligence].... [I]f the SecDef went to a briefing and we had reported that we had captured 14 Al Qaeda and it really turned out to be 12 or 16... it would be easier to let two go or go back and capture two more rather than to try to change the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] number."

At least some of the failures might have been averted had Franks and his team tapped the right field commander. Naylor clearly thinks that choice should have been someone like Delta Force Lt. Col. Pete Blaber... the Pentagon chose Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory Trebon, who had never before commanded a ground operation, with Navy Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder as his deputy.... Hyder went so far as to communicate with his subordinates using a radio frequency he knew Blaber would not be monitoring. Trebon and Hyder were convinced that satellite feeds from Predator drones delivered to Navy and Air Force bases hundreds of miles away would be sufficient to run things. "The battle would," in Naylor's withering words, "be 'controlled' by officers watching video screens on a desert island and 'commanded' by a man who had made his name flying transport aircraft."

Two years after Anaconda, military analysts are still debating why those choppers on Takur Ghar never got close air support, and whether the Air Force provided enough firepower for the conventional infantry that followed the commandos. The Air Force, according to Army Special Forces troops, had promised to "soften" enemy targets with a 55-minute aerial bombardment while Air Force officers at Bagram Air Force base say they were aware of no such plans. Having left their artillery at home, the Army's conventional infantry depended on aircraft for heavy firepower. As often happens in combat, the best-laid plans went awry, leaving hundreds of infantrymen to fight with only the weapons they had carried in on their backs....

I had one of Martin Sheen's monologues as CPT Willard in Apocalypse Now in mind:

Charley didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory.

Likewise, today's adversaries in Afghanistan are skilled and tenacious fighters; they also see death or victory as their only exit strategies.... Al Qaeda's tactical intelligence moves as fast as their social networks and cell phones can move it, and that's pretty damn fast. They don't worry about parochial chains of command or the long-term budgetary impact of giving the mission to a certain unit from a certain branch of service; they just fight...

Signs that the Fed Believes Interest Rates Still Need to Rise

More signs that the Federal Reserve thinks that we are now quite close to full employment. Mark Thoma watches Bloomberg:

Fed's Lacker Says Rate Increases Likely to Continue: Fed Speak signals more rate increases ahead:

Fed's Lacker Says It's 'Early' to Stop Raising Rates (Update1), Bloomberg: It's too early to expect a pause in Federal Reserve interest rate increases, Fed Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker said today.... “I think it's still too early to be foreseeing a pause” in Fed rate increases... “I'm comfortable with the measured pace characterization right now.” While “inflation expectations seem well contained,” economic growth appears “fairly solid.”... He said he is watching inflation data to see whether rising oil prices spur price increases for other goods and services.... “Oil prices always pose a bit of a concern to the extent that sharp increases pass through to core inflation,” he said. The inflationary effect of higher oil prices in recent years has been “fairly limited,” he said. “The more likely risk, although it is a small one at this point, is an acceleration of unit labor costs.”... “In recent months, we've had some core PCE numbers that have been higher than I would like to see sustained, but I like where we are on a year-over-year basis,” Lacker said. “The general anticipation is for the monthly numbers to settle back down in the second half of the year.” With the economy continuing to expand at a “fairly solid pace,” the Fed can keep up its campaign to prevent inflation from rising, he said. “In that kind of situation, following through is probably the order of the day,” he said. “It's going to be data driven. It's going to depend on how things unfold.”

David Altig reports probabilities that agree with this assessment. However, the qualification at the end is worth noting. Full steam ahead until the data say otherwise.

The fall in the employment-to-population ratio, the stagnant pace of real wage growth, and the remarkably high relative level of long-term unemployment all say that there is still considerable slack in the labor market. Only the unemployment rate--now hovering near five percent--says that we are near full employment.

Schroedinger's Orzel

This is a very good example of something that is not seen often enough: an intelligent outsider's guide to how a particular subdiscipline's research seminars work. Somebody should encourage the writing of these, and compile them.

From Chad Orzell's "Uncertain Principles", as he provides such a guide for Synthetic Chemistry (that doesn't mean "not-natural chemistry" or "not-real chemistry" or "ersatz chemistry," but "chemistry where the point is to make (synthesize) things":

Notes Toward a User's Guide to Synthetic Chemistry Talks: In principle, I think this is a very good idea.... In practice... I wind up sitting through a lot of nearly incomprehensible talks, most of them dealing with the synthesis of some molecule or another.... [M]y conclusions about synthetic chemistry talks....

There's no foolproof way to know for sure what you're in for.... Various "-tion" words ("methylation," "intercalation," "purification") are pretty good markers.... Active verbs are likewise a hint.... These talks always follow the same basic form, and can be broken down into four stages:... "Here's this thing we're trying to make." This is usually accompanied by a picture consisting of a bunch of hexagons.... "Here's the stuff we start with." This will include a couple of diagrams showing different arrangements of hexagons... almost all the strange words will be names of different parts and sub-parts of molecules.... "Here are the steps in the process." This will include at least one slide showing multiple diagrams of hexagons, with arrows between them... all the strange words will refer to methods of sticking pieces of molecules together.... "Here are some graphs to prove we ended up what we wanted."... pictures of chart recorder traces, blobby photographs of electrophoresis gels, or pictures of pencil marks made on chromatography films.... The key to interpreting the data plots is that they always come in pairs (at least). There will be one picture showing the signal from the initial reactants, which will consist of a set of peaks, or little photographic blobs, or pencil marks. Then there will be a second set, showing the signal from the same method applied to the products of the reaction. This will be a different set of peaks, blobs, or pencil marks.

The entire point of this section of the talk is to note that the peaks, blobs, or pencil marks in the second picture are in different places than the peaks, blobs, or pencil marks in the first picture. Success is defined as the disappearance of the peaks, blobs, or pencil marks corresponding to the reactants, and the appearance of the peaks, blobs, or pencil marks corresponding to the products.

Peaks, blobs, or pencil marks that are in the same places in both pictures are invariably due to solvents. The speaker will often pretend that these don't exist. Humor them....

If you absolutely need to ask a question.... If the speaker hasn't mentioned the yield specifically, you can't go wrong asking "What's the yield like?" If they have stated the yield, ask "How does the yield stack up against other methods of producing this stuff?" If they have stated the yield, and compared it to existing methods, and you still feel a need to ask a question, ask about the solvent peaks/ blobs/ pencil marks. Questions of the form "Why are you trying to make this stuff in the first place?" are usually considered unsporting....

[S]imilar guides could easily be prepared for various categories of physics talks... the Generic Quantum Information Question is either "What about scalability?" or "What about the decoherence rates?"

I take it that the answer to "What about scalability?" is: "It doesn't scale. If it did, we would have turned the Moon into Smart Matter by now, it would have taken over, and we would be its enthusiastic willing slaves--if it deigned to notice us at all." I take it that the answer to "What about the decoherence rates?" is: "If the decoherence rate was slow enough to be really interesting, you would now know what it's like to feel quantum interference from different versions of yourself listening to different versions of this talk."

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Idiots? (Yet Another Bushies-in-Iraq Edition)

Larry Diamond is hyper-shrill. From Liberals Against Terrorism: I just picked up a copy of Larry Diamond's new book, Squandered Victory.... I've only read the first four chapters, but those are packed with observations and anecdotes that I haven't seen elsewhere. Highly recommended.

One story that really got me was the tale of former ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine suggesting to Rumsfeld in March of 2003 that it would behoove the Bush administration to develop a plan to pay Iraqi civil servants. Rumsfeld replied that American taxpayers would never go for it and that he was not concerned if they were paid for several weeks or even months; if they rioted in the streets in protest, he said, the US could use such an eventuality as leverage to get the Europeans to pick up the tab. Stunning, no?...

As Daniel Davies wrote two and a half years ago:

Can anyone... give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

  1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration.
  2. It was significant enough in scale that I'd have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it).
  3. It wasn't in some important way completely f***** up during the execution?

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

"Small, Hairless, Blind, and Dependent on a Larger Rodent for All His Information

Snark! Snark! Snark!

Scott McClellan Wanders Off Reservation, Is Shot and Killed:

The Sweat Just Starting To Break Out We would like to apologize for our characterization yesterday of Scott McClellan as a puppy dog. Thanks to the New York Times, we were able to review all of his statements on the Rove-Plame matter and now we feel that a more accurate analogy would be that Scott McClellan is like a hapless baby rodent of some kind. Perhaps a gerbil or a weasel. Small, hairless, blind, and dependent on a larger rodent for all his information. So it's true, McClellan did, in extreme flustered mode, yelp out such regrettable declarations as "I've made it very clear, [Rove] was not involved, that there's no truth to the suggestion that he was," and "The president knows that Karl Rove wasn't involved," and, more brazenly, "There has been absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement."

These statements are all in sharp contrast to the more maturely weasely statements of the President and Rove himself, around which there is enough wiggle room for a fat, bald man to slither through and stay employed for at least three more years. All this proves is that no one tells Scotty anything. It's not really his job to know anything. His job is to say what he's told to say, or, in some extraordinary cases, what he intuits they might say with the power of his mind:

I've known Karl for a long time, and I didn't even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.

Like we said, he doesn't know anything.

Past White House Briefings on C.I.A. Leak Case [NYT]
Earlier: The Rove Show, with Scott McLellan as Old Yeller [Wonkette]

The High-Wage Model

CostCo. If only we could once again have a tight labor market, CostCo would be likely to eat WalMart for lunch: / Business life - Pile high, sell cheap and pay well: By Jonathan Birchall: “If we have a floating inflatable ring for towing behind a boat, it will be the biggest there is . . . it will be 10ft across . . . and it will only cost $49.99,” Mr Galanti says, speaking with rapid enthusiasm in his modest office at Costco’s headquarters in the nearby suburb of Issaquah. But, in the world of US retail, it is not just Costco’s “stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap” approach to higher quality items such as organic spinach and balsamic vinegar that merits attention.

In a country where the retail industry has been convulsed over the past decade by the rise of Wal-Mart and rival discounters, Costco’s discount warehouse club is part of the revolution. But unlike Wal-Mart, whose low-cost labour model has provoked increasingly vocal criticism, Costco has managed to remain competitive while providing its workers with the highest wages and best healthcare plans available anywhere in the US retail industry.

In the anti-Wal-Mart camp, “Costco is seen as the White Knight to Wal-Mart’s Darth Vader,” says Nelson Lichtenstein, a University of California professor of labour history, who is editing a new book on Wal-Mart’s rise.

Costco was founded by Jim Sinegal, chief executive and president, and Jeff Brotman, company chairman, in 1983 – the year that Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, opened Sam’s Club, a rival warehouse club. Both follow the same broad philosophy, developed for small business operators, rather than for individual shoppers: sell a limited number of items in bulk to reduce handling overheads, use mass orders to win attractive pricing from suppliers and sell membership subscriptions to boost returns and guarantee customer loyalty....

“Anything we can do to lower the expenses translates into being able to sell the merchandise for lower cost,” says Mr Galanti. “So that we are the extreme value proposition for quality goods.”... But Costco’s frugality does not extend to pay and working conditions. The average hourly wage for a full and part-time US employee is $17.41, according to the company. At Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club, the sum for a similar employee is around $12 an hour. “It’s important to pay people a fair living wage,” says Mr Galanti, “and if you do, and it’s better than everybody else, you’re going to get better people – and they’re going to stick around longer, and we see that.”

Costco has a staff turnover rate of 17 per cent annually... compared with 70 per cent seen in the rest of the sector. Only six per cent of new staff leave within the first year, which again reduces costs. “First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do,” says Mr Galanti. “And long-term, we know it pays dividends.”...

70 percent annual turnover cannot be good--the incentives for the business to nickel-and-dime the workers is just too great when the overwhelming proportion of them aren't going to be around for long.

Unspinning the Budget Deficit

Paul Krugman on the budget deficit outlook:

Un-Spin the Budget - New York Times: By PAUL KRUGMAN: Later this week the White House budget director plans to put on an aviator costume, march up to a microphone and declare Mission Accomplished in the war on deficits.... [T]he administration is poised to do the same thing on the budget that it has done again and again in Iraq: claim that a modest, probably temporary lull in the flow of bad news shows that victory is around the corner....

So let me do some pre-emptive de-spinning and debunking.

To understand where the budget deficit came from, you can't do better than the Jan. 18, 2001, issue of the satirical newspaper The Onion, which predicted the future with eerie precision. "We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent," the magazine's spoof had the president-elect declare. "And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."

And so it has turned out. President Bush has presided over the transformation of a budget surplus into a large deficit, which threatens the government's long-run solvency. The principal cause of that reversal was Mr. Bush's unprecedented decision to cut taxes... [in] an expensive war.

Where's the good news? Well, for the past four years actual tax receipts have consistently come in below expectations, so that the deficit is even bigger than one might have predicted.... Recent tax numbers, however, finally offer a positive surprise.... The usual suspects on the right are already declaring victory over the deficit....

But... revenue remains far lower than anyone would have predicted before the tax cuts began. In January 2001 the budget office forecast revenues of $2.57 trillion in fiscal 2005... the actual number will be at least $400 billion less.... Ed McKelvey of Goldman Sachs believe[s] that even the limited good news on the budget is a temporary blip.... Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the director of the Congressional Budget Office... declares that... "[for] 2008, 2009 or 2010, that vision is the same today as it was two months ago."...

[T]he upside surprise in tax receipts is coming from... tax payments from corporations, up both because last year corporate profits grew much more rapidly than the rest of the economy and because... a temporary tax break... expired. Both are one-time events. The other source of increased revenue is nonwithheld income taxes... capital gains on stocks and real estate... bonuses.... Again, this revenue boost looks like a temporary blip....

[W]e're still deep in the fiscal quagmire, with federal revenues far below what's needed to pay for federal programs. And we won't get out of that quagmire until a future president admits that the Bush tax cuts were a mistake, and must be reversed.

Keep Alberto Gonzales Off the Supreme Court

Michael Kinsley doesn't want Alberto Gonzales on the Supreme Court:

Gonzales' Fatal Flaw: Because of his central role in decisions taken by the administration to flout international law... Gonzales was a poor choice for the attorney general's office... and... would... be a disastrous choice for the Supreme Court. As White House counsel, Gonzales... was intent on pushing an exceedingly narrow definition of torture that allowed for prisoner mistreatment.

Had he been a responsible counselor to his client, Gonzales would have urged Bush not to take the expedient shortcuts that led to the scandals at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and the unlawful detention of U.S. citizens denied access to counsel...

Karl Rove

I've been told the same thing as Duncan Black has: Karl Rove did not call Matt Cooper and say, "I really mean it when I say that you are free of any obligation to me not to testify." Instead, the loudness of Karl Rove's and his lawyer's claims that he had freed reporters who talked to him of any obligation pushed Cooper beyond the limit:

Eschaton: [The] New York Times article on the Rove case is typically clear as mud, but after reading it several times and consulting with a handful of liberal intellectuals, I've gained new respect for Matt Cooper. Basically, he got fed up with Rove's lawyer lying to the press, and figured that combined with the waiver he'd previously received and the emphasis Luskin placed on it, was enough.

In other words, Rove's lawyer, acting as an agent of Rove, mounted a too extreme PR campaign on behalf of his client, and sufficient deceptive remarks led Cooper to say f*** it. Luskin thought Cooper wouldn't testify no matter what he said, and he was wrong.

Good for Cooper.

Eliot Cohen Crosses the Aisle and Joins the Reality-Based Community

The word was always that Eliot Cohen was a very smart man, and a wise one--even though he was, for some impossible-to-grasp reason, a neoconservative. Here the Belgravia Dispatch catches him crossing the aisle back to the reality-based community:

THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH: A Neo-Con Speaks Out: Eliot Cohen speaks very openly to the WaPo in a short Q&A. It has become increasingly rare to find bright (neo)conservatives willing to buck party orthodoxy and the approved talking points ("last throes"!)--who have the requisite integrity to be honest and forthright about some of the missteps that have rendered so difficult the Iraq effort.


But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.

I did not know, but I might have guessed.

Another passage:

Question: Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?

Cohen: Pride, of course -- great pride. And fear. And an occasional burning in the gut, a flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns.

It is a flicker of rage that two years into an insurgency, we still expose our troops in Humvees to the blasts of roadside bombs -- knowing that even the armored version of that humble successor to the Jeep is simply not designed for warfare along guerrilla-infested highways, while, at the same time, knowing that plenty of countries manufacture armored cars that are. It is disbelief at a manpower system that, following its prewar routines, ships soldiers off to war for a year or 15 months, giving them two weeks of leave at the end, when our British comrades, more experienced in these matters and wiser in pacing themselves, ship troops out for half that time, and give them an extra month on top of their regular leave after an operational deployment.

It is the sick feeling that churned inside me at least 18 months ago, when a glib and upbeat Pentagon bureaucrat assured me that the opposition in Iraq consisted of "5,000 bitter-enders and criminals," even after we had killed at least that many. It flames up when hearing about the veteran who in theory has a year between Iraq rotations, but in fact, because he transferred between units after returning from one tour, will go back to Iraq half a year later, and who, because of "stop-loss orders" involuntarily extending active duty tours, will find himself in combat nine months after his enlistment runs out. And all this because after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops.

A variety of emotions wash over me as I reflect on our Iraq war: Disbelief at the length of time it took to call an insurgency by its name. Alarm at our continuing failure to promote at wartime speed the colonels and generals who have a talent for fighting it, while also failing to sweep aside those who do not. Incredulity at seeing decorations pinned on the chests and promotions on the shoulders of senior leaders -- both civilians and military -- who had the helm when things went badly wrong. Disdain for the general who thinks Job One is simply whacking the bad guys and who, ever conscious of public relations, cannot admit that American soldiers have tortured prisoners or, in panic, killed innocent civilians. Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war, and for the blithe disregard of the bungles by some who think they were right in favoring it. A desire -- barely controlled -- to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high and that I really shouldn't get exercised about them.

There is a lot of talk these days about shaky public support for the war. That is not really the issue. Nor should cheerleading, as opposed to truth-telling, be our leaders' chief concern. If we fail in Iraq -- and I don't think we will -- it won't be because the American people lack heart, but because leaders and institutions have failed. Rather than fretting about support at home, let them show themselves dedicated to waging and winning a strange kind of war and describing it as it is, candidly and in detail. Then the American people will give them all the support they need. The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth -- an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

The Republican Social Security Proposal Tries to Evolve

There's certainly no sign here of Intelligent Design. Mark Thoma writes:

Economist's View: Social Security Reform Follies Not Yet Iced: I thought I’d take a few minutes to bring you the latest I can find on Social Security reform... this from The Washington Times. If this is accurate, the reform effort isn't dead yet:

Republicans retrench on Social Security fix, By Amy Fagan, The Washington Times: Six months after Republicans began selling Social Security reform, they all but acknowledge that wide-scale changes won't happen this year. But knowing they must do something, they are pushing a narrower Social Security proposal... a solvency fix... doesn't seem likely... leaders couldn't achieve consensus in the House... but they also couldn't face the 2006 electorate without acting on the president's wishes. Therefore... they combined private accounts, which most Republicans support, with the popular idea of stopping the government from raiding the Social Security surplus.... "If it works, you've got a great victory. If it fails [in the Senate], well you don't get hurt," he said....

...It looks like the strategy is to get something to a vote, anything, then blame Democrats for obstructing reform...

And, of course, the DeMint proposals don't do anything about "stopping the government from raiding the Social Security surplus": no pay-go, no sequesters, no procedural changes to make it hard or impossible to run an on-budget deficit.

It's not clear whether Amy Fagan doesn't know that this DeMint proposal doesn't do anything to protect the Social Security surplus, or knows and doesn't care that what she writes is not accurate.

Yglesias Comments on Thin Support for CAFTA

Matthew Yglesias comments on the thin support for CAFTA:

TPMCafe || Who Killed Free Trade?: By Matthew Yglesias: I think my American Prospect colleague Harold Meyerson (who, conveniently, isn't around to help out...) is wrong to attribute Democratic opposition to CAFTA primarily to the success of AFL-CIO lobbying efforts. The AFL-CIO is an important voice on these issues, of course, but the decisive actor here has been George W. Bush.

First, Bush decided to let the pharmaceutical and media industries run amok and produce an agreement that is much more important as an intellectual property deal than as a trade deal.

Second, he froze the traditional leaders of the pro-trade faction of House Democrats out of the negotiations.

Third -- and most crucially -- he gutted the traditional Trade Adjustment Assistance provisions of the package even though the House New Dem caucus specifically told him that this would cost him their votes.

The basic picture is that having killed the Doha Round of the WTO with his farm subsidies, Bush had lost about all his free trade street cred. As a result, he wanted to create a situation where the Democrats would look even less interested in promoting the free exchange of goods in the eyes of the business community. Hence, he put together a deal that's pretty trivial as a substantive matter (we're talking about tiny economies) but was specifically designed to get as few Democratic votes as possible.

In a way, this is a strange -- indeed, unique -- instance of the Bush White House and the AFL-CIO working hand in hand to kill off the free trade Democrats.

Republican Family Values

Digby catches a story from the New Republic:

Hullabaloo: William Kristol, as always, is the slickest guy around.

William Kristol, The Weekly Standard: Whether he personally believes in evolution: "I don't discuss personal opinions.... I'm familiar with what's obviously true about it as well as what's problematic.... I'm not a scientist.... It's like me asking you whether you believe in the Big Bang."

How evolution should be taught in public schools: "I managed to have my children go through the Fairfax, Virginia schools without ever looking at one of their science textbooks."

I would not have thought anyone would be so bad a parent as to care so little about what their children were doing.

Republican family values once again.

The Day of the Blackberries...

My standard line about our property is that it has two acres in grassland (a good deal of which is taken over by the Dread Armenian Yellow Star Thistle in August and September), two acres in seasonal creek and creekside oak forest (plus about fifteen twenty year-old redwoods planted in a location that is not quite moist enough for them), and one acre of blackberry thicket.

My description is now out of date.

It is now 1.5 acres of blackberries.

They have been slowly expanding for a while. But the pace has accelerated. The blackberries have used scrub jay-transported air assault to establish an airhead on the property just to the south of ours, have consolidated their hold, and are now coming through the fence--sending runners across the driveway asphalt.

Under cover of the extraordinarily wet and long spring, the main body of blackberries has sent runners out down the creekbed. Advancing this spring at a pace of nearly 3" per day, they have established outposts throughout much of the creekbed which they are threatening to consolidate--especially just upstream of the rude bridge by the small swingset.

Our local deer are useless--they are desperate to get even semi-ripe blackberries, but they won't seriously chomp on the thorny stems at all.

And we have only one truly heavy-duty long-handed clipper.

Clearly a trip to the garden store and a mid-summer counteroffensive are in order...

But what aobut the long term? Should we talk to the genetic engineering people about possibilities for blackberry control via special blight? Should we be thinking about contracting with Goats 'R' Us?

Fine Print!

Some very fine print. From the Seacliffe Best Western Hotel in Aptos, CA:

HOTEL GUEST COMPLIMENTARY BREAKFAST.... Fresh Fruit Parfait--Granola and yoghurt topped with Fresh Fruit OR Two farm fresh eggs, scrambled (Only) with choice of Bacon or Sausage. Served with country potatoes and a Croissant. Toast is not included with Hotel breakfast, Nor can it be substituted for the Croissant, however it can be purchased for $1.95. Coffee, Tea, Milk, Lemonade, Orange Juice, Apple Juice, or Pass-O-Guava Juice Only Is included with Hotel Breakfast Please No substitutions on Hotel breakfast. A $3.95 credit will be applied to other entries on the breakfast menu if you choose outside the box.

I don't know about you, but after reading that somehow I don't feel very complimented.

Offshoring: Salary Differences in Tech Support and Related Occupations

The high-tech salary gulf:

Hard salary numbers for offshoring | | CNET Entry-level workers at Vietnamese tech outsourcing operations earn an average of $3,276 a year, compared to $5,443 for such workers in India, $5,616 in Romania and $25,338 in Canada. Those stats are among the juicy nuggets that can be snagged from a report released Wednesday by consulting firm neoIT. But the salary information must be put in context, neoIT cautions.

"Salary differences are huge when comparing IT jobs onshore versus offshore, but taken in isolation they don't provide an accurate picture of the total cost of offshoring since it requires a more complex management and governance structure in order to ensure that goals are met," Atul Vashistha, CEO of neoIT, said in a statement. According to the report, firms have realized net cost savings in the range of 10 to 35 percent by outsourcing IT operations to lower-cost offshore and "nearshore" locations. Examples of "nearshore" nations include Hungary, Israel and Ireland, according to neoIT.

Of 18 outsourcing countries, India had the highest year-over-year growth in average salary for IT outsourcing professionals in 2004, at roughly 13 percent, the report found.

Posted by Ed Frauenheim

Mrs. Tilton Says 'Corporate Governance' in German

Mrs. Tilton of the Sixth International surveys German corporate governance:

A Fistful of Euros: How do you say 'corporate governance' in German?: ...corporate governance as it is (or is not) implemented in Germany... two particularly interesting items: a corporate governance scandal of colossal proportions at a major firm, and now a significant governance reform that is unlikely to make top German managers very happy.

First, the scandal... Volkswagen.... If asked for a concrete example of the peculiarly German consensus approach -- ’partnership’ among capital, labour and state -- that drove the Wirtschaftswunder, not a few people would point to VW.... So imagine the fun had by all as amazing revelations began to emerge from Wolfsburg. VW management, it seems, had a long-term policy of keeping the Betriebsrat -- the works council -- sweet. Sensible enough, you might say, and in keeping with that German consensus approach. But even Ludwig Erhard would surely have scowled at some of the sweeteners: front firms set up to ladle secret cash to top labour representatives; all-in junkets to Brazil, including (if the rumours are true) the services of a profession rather older than auto-making....

Prof. Baums of Frankfurt, who has long crusaded for better corporate governance, thinks that state involvement is to blame... state involvement ’transfers the role of the risk-bearing owner with a personal stake to a functionary who is not affected [by the success or otherwise of the firm].’... the problem Baums notes is nothing new, and nothing peculiar to state involvement; Berle and Means made it the centrepiece of their seminal work even before the regime under which VW was founded came to power....

Now for the good news, unless you are managing director of an exchange-listed German firm.... This morning the Bundesrat, the German parliament’s upper house, appoved a bill that will require listed corporations, as from the 2006 fiscal year, to make detailed disclosure of executive compensation on an individual basis.... This isn’t something that will go away if and when Angela Merkel becomes chancellor in September....

If you hold shares in a firm (or are considering buying some), surely you are entitled to know how much you are paying the people who manage your property for you. In particular, you’d want to know how much of their pay was variable (bonuses, options, SARs and similar schemes), and under what conditions they get their swag. All too often firms shovel money at managers who are destroying the firm’s value. As a shareholder, there might be little you can do to stop this; but armed with adequate disclosure, you can at least decide to sell (or decline to buy in the first place).