Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.


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Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.


"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.



Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best


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Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank


Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics


David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason


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To Dwell Secure


John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun


Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945





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Saturday, June 28, 2003
 
George Galloway has initiated legal action against the Telegraph for publishing documents accusing him of taking bribes from Saddam Hussein.

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The Ulster Unionist Party appears to be breaking up. The break-away MPs are opposed to David Trimble's willingness to proceed with the peace process in Northern Ireland. Ostensibly, they are angry over the participation of the Irish government in the negotiations. The three break-away MPs made up half of the Ulster Unionist delegation in Westminster, which formerly made the party the fourth largest in Westminster, behind Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. That, um, honor now goes to the Scottish National Party, which has 5 seats. The three MPs, led by Jeffrey Donaldson, appear to be unwilling to join Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, but may form a third unionist party, Two Catholic parties elect MPs in Northern Ireland - the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein MPs do not sit at Westminster, however, as this would require swearing allegiance to the Queen.

Thursday, June 26, 2003
 
I'm currently blogging from an internet cafe, so this post may get updated and amended later when I actually have a computer to use.

That said ...

About the RIAA's plans to sue music downloaders. Beyond Ezra's brief comments, let me add a few ideas as to how to respond:

1. Start downloading more. A lot more. If you haven't already, sign up to Grokster, Kazaa, whatever under an assumed name, use a proxy server, and download and burn to your hearts content. Now.
2. If they sue you, sue 'em back. And I mean all of them. Find your neighborhood's nearest lawyer, and sue everyone associated with the record labels and RIAA suing you ... and their secretaries, parents, children and pets.
3. If you want to buy CD's rather than burn them, buy them directly from the musician's websites. I dunno if they're actually cutting out the labels, but it sends a message.
4. Find friends with similar tastes in music and copy everything that the other buys. The RIAA still doesn't have a way to track that (and I think it's technically legal, but I'm not really qualified to make that judgment)
5. Hack the web sites of the RIAA, the labels, etc., etc. I don't really know how to do it, but, again, somebody needs to give these idiots a good slap in the face. Do it repeatedly.
6. Someone has to find the private e-mail addresses of Hilary Rosen, Carey Sherman, etc. and publicize them ... and make sure that their inboxes are getting filled with spam.

I'm not even going to try to delve into the issues of whether file sharing constitutes theft of intellectual property or not. (in any case, that should be the decision of the artist, not their label to decide). Besides the fact that music is produced by a cartelized group of companies whose monopolistic behavior would make Microsoft blush - and who are clearly both manipulating the sales numbers that they provide to the public and are charging far more for CD's than can possibly be justified by the underlying economics - this is simply a rampant misuse of the legal system.

 
The Cavs selected LeBron James. Big surprise. Being the Cavs, I don't know how, but they'll find a way to screw things up.

Monday, June 23, 2003
 
Sorry

Um, I currently don't have internet access at work (and even if I did, there's nothing but a glass partition between me and my boss's boss at the moment), nor any internet access in my apartment either. Thankfully, we'll be moving into a new office next weel. Blogging is going to be very sporadic as a result until Saturday ... probably.

Saturday, June 21, 2003
 
News in British

I haven't had access to a computer for the last day, so I'm a little behind on this one, but apparently the Christian Science Monitor did tests on the documents that they had published indicating that George Galloway had taken money from the Iraqi government and found that they were forgeries. Tests have not yet been performed on the Telegraph's documents, but this obviously casts doubt on everything. Galloway has already demanded a government inquiry into the publication of the documents.

Galloway remains suspended from the Labour party, as he had been suspended on other grounds - his terming of Tony Blair (and George W. Bush) as 'wolves' and attempting to incite British soldiers in Iraq to refuse their orders. As a result, he may still be expelled from the party (and due to redistricting, he stands little chance to win re-election at the next general election).

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The Guardian is reporting that, while dying of tuberculosis, Eric Blair (George Orwell) send the foreign office a letter listing 38 individuals who "in my opinion are crypto-communists, fellow-travellers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as [anti-communist] propagandists." The list included Charlie Chaplin, an MP, novelist J.B. Priestly, a handful of journalists and others. The article notes that Blair was definitely right about one of the individuals on his list - journalist Peter Smollett - and may have been right about a few others.

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Peter Hain has been forced to back down on suggestions that the government should raise the top level of income tax. Though Gordon Brown has done much to introduce a more progressive income tax, Labour remains reticent to blatantly raise the top level of tax - a suggestion that it would do the same was one of the main reasons behind Neil Kinnock's loss in the 1992 general election. The Independent notes that extremely high levels of income taxation lead to labor disincentives and may induce people to leave the country. This is technically correct, though it's not clear whether the tax rises that Hain wants would be sufficient to incite serious problems - as high tax rates during the 1970's actually did.

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The Times is reporting that Labour peers want to speed up the reform of the Lords and ensure that the Lord Chancellor's post is replaced with a Speaker of the Lords by the time of the state opening of Parliament - Lord Falconer had suggested that it might take a couple of years to pass all the legislation needed to allow the changes that the government wants to make.

Thursday, June 19, 2003
 
I'm still kind of busy with real life, so I'll just list the things I've noticed upon returning to the U.S.:

1. There are a lot more SUV's here.
2. There are a lot more fat people here too.
3. People mumble a lot more. Or maybe that's just me.
4. There are a lot more TV stations here. There's still nothing on.
5. And nine months after I left, they're still running the same old ads.

 
Back, sort of

Back, and possibly back to blogging later.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
 
That's all, folks (I also would have accepted 'Leaving on a Jet Plane,' 'TTFN,' 'Over and Out,' ...)

It's time for me to put away the blog for a day or two. I need to pack up ye olde laptoppe (I thincke I'm usinge ye Olde Inglishe a bitt toe mutche), as I'm leaving Britain and going back to the U.S. tomorrow (I know you've all missed me terribly. LSE is done, and I've got to get back to a job (yes, I have found a job) for the summer. I don't yet completely know how the blog will work into things, since I'm not about to start blogging from work ... um, unless I've got a damn good excuse ... and I don't know if I'll have a functioning (read: non-dial-up) internet connection at home.

So, a little parting advice should you, um, get bored and stumble on to this during the next day or so:

Moving your life across a multi-thousand mile expanse of water is a real pain in the ass (not to mention the legs, back and arms). Tomorrow I'm going to have to haul my own body weight* and then some across to an airport on the other side of town. It's a pain, and this is one of the easier parts of it. It's well worth it anyway.

The more I read about the problems going on today, the more I come to understand just how little we really know about the rest of the world - and how distorted the information that we receive often is. This is, of course, true in the other direction as well. Indeed, travel is the only first-hand and direct way to get a grip on how everyone else sees things - and you. I'm not trying to take this point to its extreme - the world would not suddenly become a perfect place if everyone got a nice little trip somewhere else to see how things really work outside their own respective backyards - but the more I wonder about it, the greater effect I think it just might have.

*It's not that I really have that much stuff, it's just that I'm that thin.


 
George Monbiot, nutter

George Monbiot may have lost it. He's proposing the creation of a global democratic assembly that would oversee the numerous multinational NGO's around and bring about a more friendly form of globalization.

The UN security council should be scrapped, and its powers vested in a reformulated UN general assembly. This would be democratised by means of weighted voting: nations' votes would increase according to both the size of their populations and their positions on a global democracy index. Perhaps most importantly, the people of the world would elect representatives to a global parliament, whose purpose would be to hold the other international bodies to account.

Er, wasn't the UN the good guy and the U.S. the bad guy as of a couple of months ago ...

Anyway, as Chris Bertram pointed out, "it seems rather obvious to me that such a body would in practice by colonized by elites in the shape of both corporate interests and NGOs. And why should anyone accord such a body legitimacy?"

Not to mention the fact that creating a global democratic assembly would give rise to enormous distortions of democracy. Monbiot has said elsewhere that there should be roughtly 600 seats in the assembly, representing about 10 million voters each. The problem is that this means that millions upon millions of people's votes will essentially be distorted out of existence if they don't vote for the winning candidate (the FPTP problem). Representing millions upon millions of people will ignore millions upon millions of others. Clearly any assembly that expects to be remotely democratic needs to consist of constituencies that aren't so huge.

Monbiot adds the following:

You might regard this agenda as either excessive or insufficient, wildly optimistic or boringly unambitious. But it is not enough simply to reject it. Do so by all means, but only once you have first proposed a better one of your own.

OK. How about what we've got now? It sucks, but at least it's not an infeasible and illegitmate mess. Or how about anarchy?

I don't doubt that Monbiot means well. But he doesn't seem to be paying any attention whatsoever to the actual implications of his ideas.

 
News in British

Everything right is wrong, night is day, black is white, etc., etc.

The Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, has apparently demanded that Tony Blair speak to the Commons on constitutional reform yesterday. Blair then refused, citing a scheduled lunch with Pervez Musharraf, but will speak later today. This is a fairly unprecedented move, as I understand it, given that the Speaker rarely makes use of his formal powers over the Commons.

The Tories are clearly scoring points off the mess - Iain Duncan Smith is apparently at his best when it's time to defend a bunch of old men wearing wigs and breeches. At the same time, I think it's worth noting that few actually seem to oppose the bulk of the reforms. The Lord Chancellor's job was clearly a vestige of ye oldenne dayes and out of touch with modern legal practices. Few will be sorry to see it go, along with the elimination of the Law Lords. There have been a few voices raised against the elimination of the positions of the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries, but there are just as many who want to see the positions eliminated entirely. Hugo Young argues that Tony Blair won't respect the independence of the judiciary - which is a little ironic, given that the reforms are intended to give the judiciary a far larger degree of independence than it currently enjoys.

The bulk of the criticism is that the job was rushed, and that people other than Tony Blair weren't consulted. Which is true and innapropriate. So instead of a debate beforehand, we're getting a debate now - the reforms to the judiciary have to be passed by the Commons. As the Guardian points out, faced with Alan Milburn's impending resignation, it would have been a far better idea for Tony Blair to push back the reshuffle for a couple weeks until the summer recess begins. (or, for that matter, he ought to have reformed the Law Lords in 1997 when first elected)

OK? Maybe the press can calm down now.

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David Trimble has narrowly won a leadership election in the Ulster Unionist party, raising the possibility that the loser, Jeffrey Donaldson, may break away and form a third unionist party (the other is Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, which Donaldson apparently does not intend to join).

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There have apparently been a couple of break-ins at the Baker Street Tube station. The company running the station has responded by putting up a couple of CCTV cameras - which are already pretty much everywhere else in London - including one opposite the point where workers clock in.

So how has the workers union responded?

They're thinking of going on a one-day strike to protest.

Seriously, do they actually think these things through? It's getting to the point where people are going to be afraid to sneeze in the stations for fear of inciting a walk-out.

 
Ah, Britain

You can buy a one-way ticket for the Heathrow Express in Express (i.e., second) Class for £11.70 ($19.70), or a 12-pack of tickets for £143 ($240.77).

Do the math ... because someone else sure as hell didn't.

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I'm listening to BBC Radio 4 right now, and they're doing a story on an art forum bringing together artists from different countries across Europe. Apparently the Scots have demanded their own pavilion. At the same time, one of the Welsh artists has rigged up a spotlight to write out a peace message in the sky in Welsh, spelled out in Morse Code. In other words, a grand total of three people will be able to read it.

Monday, June 16, 2003
 
Well, I'm certainly not going anywhere ...

Ezra Klein is no more (the blog, not the individual). Ezra, Matt Singer and Joe Rospars have abandoned the fine (read, free) confines of Blogger and hauled arse over to Not Geniuses (and Moveable Type).

This sentence will have to do until I can come up with something snarky, sarcastic, and appropriate to commemorate the move.

UPDATE: Nothing yet.

 
If Tony Blair acts too presidential, should we just make him President?

Tom Runnacles responded to a post I wrote discussing why Tony Blair should be upheld as a model for Democrats in the U.S., rather than derided over his support of the war in Iraq. My post is here, his response is here.

Tom said:

My sense of the country is that people are really, really sick of Blair. He annoys lefties as it becomes more and more obvious that he's not much more than a smiley Thatcherite; he annoys the right because there's a kind of year-zero anti-tradition trope Blair goes in for that they really hate; and the great apolitical swing-vote in the middle are losing patience with his gratingly unconvincing 'ordinary guy' persona, with his obvious control freakery, with his propensity for dishonesty.

Blair certainly has his failings. If John Major represented 'Thatcherism with a human face,' Tony Blair may well represent 'Thatcherism with an attractive human face.' OK, so that's a little cruel (and an exaggeration). Blair certainly backs the strong state half of the strong state/liberalized (i.e., less government involvement) economics. Thanks to Gordon Brown, liberalized economics hasn't been a product of Tony Blair's premiership.

Still, I think Blair is a good role-model for Democrats. Britain is, on the whole, to the left of the U.S. Thatcher was considered fairly far to the right in Britain; in the U.S., she'd be a mainstream Republican. Individuals like George Galloway, Tony Benn and Michael Foot could not get elected to a county dogcatcher position in the U.S. The Lib Dems would be unelectable in much (though not all) of the U.S. In other words, though Tony Blair may live on the centre-right of British politics, he'd fit snugly in the center-left of American politics. Blairite policies represent a series of ideas that would work quite well in the U.S. and, as Clinton showed, lead to electability. I should point out though that the ideas of Blair, Blunkett and Straw on civil liberties would probably fail in the U.S. (and unfortunately don't in Britain).

The Labour party really needed to wise up in the 'eighties; it needed a leader who could speak confidently and persuasively about social democratic values without scaring the horses too much. ... I believe it had actually found such a leader in John Smith, who had the damned lack of consideration to die on us. So instead, we ended up with Blair, who could do the 'confident and persuasive' bit, and who the horses weren't scared by at all, but who kind of passed on the bit about values. The democrats need to find their John Smith, or even their Gordon Brown; a Blair won't help at all in pulling the political centre of the country back to where I think, from reading his blog, Dan wants it to be.

True, though where Smith gave Labour the final push it needed to get away from the Bennite wing of the party, the Democrats are not suffering for having moved to the far left, but because they cannot develop a coherent and 'sticky' political stance. As far as Brown ... well, I think highly enough of Brown that I believe we should just kidnap him and run him for the Presidency in 2004. I'm not sure that's a particularly feasible (or constitutional) strategy, though. Brownite ideas of redistribution, however, probably aren't politically feasible in the U.S. in the immediate future. I have to think that, though Tony Blair may not be perfect for Britain, he makes a damn fine role model for the Democrats - probably the best that they can hope to do in the immediate future.

One other minor quibble - I'm not entirely sure that Iain Duncan Smith is the main problem of the Tories. Everyone else (besides Letwin) is. They've become an incoherent rambling mess that can't do anything well other than fight each other. Duncan Smith comes across well - indeed, as the average guy that Tony Blair aims to be - except when he starts taking his talking points from the Daily Mail. He seems at his wits end, though, in dealing with a group of people clearly unfit for government. Thus, he comes across like an idiot when giving the 'unite or die' speech.

The truth is that the Democrats need not so much someone who mirrors a stereotype as someone who can draw on the best elements of the American political system and the ideas and strategies of Smith, Blair and Brown.

Like Tom said, it's not much of a fight.

(a random question - Why doesn't Ken Clarke just give up and join the Lib Dems already?)

 
Democracy by diktat

Jacob Levy at Los Volokhs is upset about the way that Tony Blair seems to be changing the British constitution by fiat.

He points to this article in yesterday's Observer that detailed a report suggesting that the Queen should lose her role as the head of the Church of England. Prof. Levy said: "I'd like to see this one happen, but, again, we're talking about a major change in the formal and symbolic character of the state, and I'd be disappointed to see the change enacted simply on Blair's say-so."

How would you do it differently?

Parliament is the British government. Regional assemblies obviously could not undertake such a measure. Referendums aren't an answer to everything, either - just ask the people of Hartlepool.* Obviously some consultation with the monarchy and other affected bodies would be necessary - which is precisely what the report in question did. Further direct consultation with the Church of England would be a good idea (though it's fairly likely that the Archbishop of Canterbury would probably be favorable to the idea).

Prof. Levy also says that "the radical changes to the British constitution under Blair, enacted by prime ministerial diktat and simple parliamentary majority, have already fundamentally transformed the world's oldest continuously-operating free system of government, and in one major case-- House of Lords reform-- pretty much done so on the fly and with no clear sense of what comes next."

As the recent reshuffle showed, Blair is still well short of ruling by diktat, needing to rely on his Cabinet - well, mostly Brown, Blunkett and Straw**. Referendums or consultation can be the source of mandates, but they are not a feasible way to govern. Britain uses a unitary system of government, not a federalist one, and has no checks and balances. There is no way to change the national government but by the parliamentary majority. Finally, the reform of the Lords was hardly done on the fly - the need for major reform had been clear for nearly a century. The problem has been not so much that Blair eliminated a pointless vestige of the old aristocracy than that he failed to eliminate the whole of it, because there is still no consensus as to what the upper house should look like in the future.

*The citizens of Hartlepool approved a referendum to create an elected mayor, and subsequently elected a monkey to the new post. I'm not kidding.
**Who should probably be thinking of changing his name to something that starts with a 'b'

 
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

Jerome Doolittle has a post up (via Atrios) pointing out that in the 16 cases where Ashcroft has over-ruled prosecutors and ordered them to seek the death penalty, capital punishment has handed down once.

Ashcroft wants the death penalty to be applied more fairly across different jurisdictions. I'm not sure that, as a U.S. attorney said, the tide against the death penalty is turning that significantly. Rather, as I pointed out back in February, though, the expectation seeking the death penalty more evenly will lead to a more even application of the death penalty is fallacious:

Regardless of whether the move actually will lead to greater unity in the application of the statute, trying to get uniform application of the death penalty nationwide is a lost cause. The jury system is intended to provide a body representative of the populations from which they are selected to judge the defendant's guilt. Where the people are less supportive of the death penalty, there is less likely to be support of its application in any particular case (although clearly there will be some volatility in this). To a certain extent, the effect of this is undermined by the fact that, in death penalty cases, the jury selection system is allowed to weed out those who oppose the death penalty on various grounds, which is clearly a departure from the original basis of the jury system ... no matter how evenly defendants are tried under the statute, there is no way to guarantee that they will be sentenced evenly.

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Brett Marston has an interesting post comparing Giscard-d'Estaing's proposal for a new EU constitution to the Articles of Confederation - confederational, clumsy and unworkable, but leading to something better in the end.

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Nathan Newman oddly supports Tom DeLay's plans for tax cuts as a way to skew future tax cuts even more towards the rich, making them politically impossible.

 
News in British

The Telegraph is reporting that the Queen was apparently livid at not being informed by Tony Blair that he planned to eliminate the 1500-year old post of Lord Chancellor before the news was made public. Interestingly enough, the article notes that the Lord Chancellor also holds the position of the Keeper of the Queen's Conscience. I'm guessing that Prince Charles keeps his in a blind trust.

OK, that's a cheap shot. Anyway, it seems that Downing Street definitely rushed the job, and didn't know at the time of the reshuffle just what would have to be done to eliminate the position. The Times is reporting that some of the Lords are considering impeding the work of the Commons in retaliation for not being consulted. As Peter Hain pointed out, given that reform of the Lords is likely to take place (eventually), this probably wouldn't be the best way to go about things.

William Rees-Mogg thinks that the Prime Minister is too busy and may not be smart enough to handle the constitutional reforms that he seeks, having made a mistake in firing Lord Irvine.

Meanwhile, the Guardian is reporting that the government, while still intending to create a Supreme Court, has rejected the U.S. model of lifetime appointments as too open to partisan politics.

Well, duh.

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The Guardian is reporting that the government is preparing to introduce bills that would allow referendums on whether to create regional assemblies in the north of England.

Why?

Is there anyone who believes that there's something that the regional assemblies could do any better than the current structure of local government. It's not as if this is going to give rise to some quasi-federal structure, as with Wales and Scotland - it's just a reorganization of the local government.

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With the results of a faux-referendum held by the extremely Eurosceptic Daily Mail on entering the Eurozone, Tim Hames writes in the Times that "It is not just that my fellow Eurosceptics go over the top, but they insist on using a pole vault to do it." Hames argues that, while he argues against Euro entry, he can't particularly stand the people alongside him who share the same ideas.

 
Damn time

It appears that the most of the remaining Tulia defendants in jail will be released while the process of overturning their convictions continues. There's more here. So when does Herbert get his Pulitzer?

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Former Sen. Alan Simpson writes in the WaPo on the capture of the Republican party by partisan zealots.

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William Raspberry also writes in the WaPo on the need to maintain its principals and its civil liberties despite the difficulties of the current global situation.

Sunday, June 15, 2003
 
And the goodwill ends .................... now

Days after Roger Clemens won his 300th game, he has said that he would boycott his own eventual induction into the Hall of Fame unless he is allowed to go in wearing a Yankees cap, rather than a Red Sox cap. Most people will probably remember Roger as a member of the Red Sox after his retirement - the vast majority of his wins and strikeouts came with the Red Sox - but Clemens left after an acrimonious contract dispute in 1996.

The right of players to choose which cap was displayed on their plaque was taken away a few years ago, after Dave Winfield was reportedly paid by the Padres (or, depending on who you asked, given a front office non-job) to become the first player to enter the Hall of Fame wearing a San Diego cap. This change has rarely been a problem - the only case I know of was Gary Carter, who will be inducted later this summer - Carter achieved most of his accomplishments with the Expos, but wanted to enter as a Met. The Expos are probably going out of business soon. The Mets are just playing like they should go out of business. Carter will be going in as an Expo anyway, and he seems to have accepted it and moved on. Unlike Clemens, Carter appears able to behave like he isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 
It's a nice thought, but ...

I just popped out to go make a withdrawal from the ATM. Across the street, I noticed that one of the pubs had put up a sign advertising that they had menus written in Braille.

I guess it's the thought that counts.

 
Core curriculums and brain candy

Ezra Klein of the blog formerly known as Ezra Klein beat up this Hugh Hewitt article in the Weekly Standard a couple of days ago (see Matt Yglesias for more). Hewitt repeatedly avoided the use of logic in discussing the fact that the graduation speaker was former Mexican president, Ernesto Zedillo (who was, I believe, a Harvard graduate ... as was last year's speaker, the esteemed former politician, Al Franken), implying that this was part of Harvard's great downfall - well, that and appointing a Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton as the President of the university.

What stuck out at me amongst Hewitt's idiocy was this:

EVEN CASUAL OBSERVERS of elite academia know of the thorough-going decay within its ranks, with its attachment to absurd theories and rejection of anything like a traditional core curriculum. For a quarter century, undergraduates have been fed a diet based on intellectual junk food that will eventually cripple the eater.

Want to know why traditionally core curriculums are being abandoned at many universities?

Because there's far too much information for undergraduates to take in and constitute a 'well-rounded' individual nowadays, far more than any core curriculum can expect to cover. If a core was to teach a student everything they needed to know, it would probably take a decade or two. Well, that and core curriculums suck.

Yeah, I'm a little biased. I'm in Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, which has one of the last massive core curriculums around outside of pre-professional programs. The core is actually larger, I understand, than Columbia's famed core. Columbia's core, though, was at least designed as a coherent whole; the core in the SFS is largely the product of regulatory creep - some courses seem to be required for no other reason than to produce an audience for departments that would otherwise have too many professors hanging around. By the time I graduate, the core will have constituted 21 of the 35 full courses that I've taken. I won't have completed the core until the end of my 7th semester (of 8) - I still have a theology and an international relations course left. My 7th semester will also be the first in which I can actually take a single elective course.

Some of those - principally the economics, history and government classes - were classes that I would have taken anyway. Some of them - the English, theology and philosophy courses - were more or less pointless. One of the English courses actually diminished my writing skills. I can't think of a damn thing I took from the philosophy classes, and I basically knew everything in the one theology course I took beforehand.* I've been stuck taking classes that were of utterly no use to me, because the administrators - for whom the same courses might have been more useful decades ago - think that I should. Meanwhile, I haven't had any time to study some of the subjects that interested me most in high school - photography, physics and Latin - because they don't fit into the strict definitions of the core. I can't enjoy my coursework for the sake of learning as I'm stuck taking subjects that I have utterly no interest in.

I won't deny that there aren't some things that any student should have to take. Any student should be required to demonstrate a basic level of writing ability, necessitating some English courses, adequately taught. Similarly, a basic knowledge of history and math is generally necessary to operate in the real world. But where there is no social consensus nor any clear need for certain subjects, students should not be forced to study them. Traditional core curriculums create far more problems than they solve, failing to teach the student anything that will be useful in the real world nor teaching students to enjoy learning for the sake of learning.

*This led to one of my all-time favorite exchanges:

Friend: How'd you do on your theology midterm?
Me: I got a 51.
Friend: Oh. (pause). What happened?
Me: It was out of 50.
Friend: Oh ... that's a lot better.
Me: Yeah, I took the test out back, slapped it around a little and made it my bitch.

 
Incompetent, or just incoherent?

I can't even make any sense of today's column, built vaguely around some comparison of everything to The Stepford Wives (and, shudder, the remake)

So, I must resort to the immutable laws of Maureen Dowd.

"Law the First is 'the People magazine principle: All political phenomena can be reduced to caricatures of the personalities involved.'" Today's column describes the junior senator from New York:

Hillary Clinton, once so angry about tea and cookies, is now so eerily glazed and good-natured that she could be the senator from Stepford.

"Law the Second is that 'It's easier to whine than to take a stand or offer solutions.'" Thus ...

If 70's feminism produced the squat and blunt Betty Friedan, this decade has produced the sensual and zaftig Nigella Lawson, who wryly calls herself a "domestic goddess" and is a purveyor of what fans call "gastro porn." More of a male fantasy than Stepford husbands could ever conjure up, the British cooking show hostess is always in the kitchen purring hot home economics advice such as mangoes are "best eaten in their natural state, and preferably in the bath."

"Law the Third is that 'It is better to be cute than coherent.'" So ...

There's even a retro trend among women toward deserting the fast track for a pleasant life of sitting around Starbucks gabbing with their girlfriends, baby strollers beside them, logging time at the gym to firm up for the he-man C.E.O. at home.

"Law the Fourth is that 'The particulars of my consumer-driven, self-involved life are of universal interest and reveal universal truths.'" Actually, this one fails, though only because this particular column is concerned with other people's consumer-driven, self-involved lives, citing Botox, anti-depressants, and plastic surgery as well as the Nigella Lawson and Starbucks comments.

"Law the Fifth states that 'Europeans are always right.'" See the Lawson comment (and, yes, British people are Europeans, too)

There are plenty of incompetent and incoherent writers out there. They don't need their own representative on the editorial page of Times.

 
News in British

It is being suggested that the Queen should lose her role as head of the Church of England.

In related news, no one cares anymore.

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Is it me, or is David Blunkett set on picking a fight with every damn judge in the country?

Don't get me wrong, I think Blunkett's probably right. While having a justice system that is actually built around rehabilitation is a damn good idea - as opposed to the U.S. system, which far too often talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk - it's clear that some things have gone too far, with criminals going all but unpunished. A degree of minimum mandatory sentencing for the worst crimes is quite perfectly reasonable. Still, it would be nice if the Home Secretary could keep quiet every now and then.

It appears that the conflict between Blunkett and Lord Irvine was worse than anyone realized, and may have been a prime cause - along with Alan Milburn's resignation - for the messy reshuffle.

Andrew 'self-appointed political journalist of the year' Rawnsley has pointed out that the problem is not so much that Blair is acting presidentially than that he has too little power, undermined by the infighting in his own Cabinet.

It appears that, by and large, there are few people with any long-term opposition to the idea of legal reforms. The problem is that many are unhappy that they haven't been consulted, and oppose some parts of the reforms. Frankly, it was a stupid move to go forward without any consultation whatsoever now - I say now because they probably could've done it in 1997 alongside other reforms without raising any ire.

 
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

This is either a dumb mistake or the latest sign of the apocalypse.

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Max Sawicky, actual economist, on the idiocy of Tom DeLay's idea of a tax code (or lack thereof).

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Long Story, Short Pier on Bob Riley's plans for the Alabama tax code.

It's a really ingenious loophole in the political debate that Gov. Riley has found. He is arguing that the notoriously regressive state income tax system has to be made more progressive - because the Bible implies that it must be done. I can't really think of any way in which the Democrats could re-use such a strategy elsewhere, though there may be some loophole that I'm missing here. (via P.L.A.)

Saturday, June 14, 2003
 
Defending Blair (Tony, not Jayson)

There's been a little schadenfreude (sp.?) on the left side of the blogs - see Steve Gilliard at Kos and Leah at Eschaton pointing joyfully at the troubles of Tony Blair over the Iraq intelligence.

The problem is this: the American left needs to study Tony Blair, not demean him over Iraq.

Yeah, Blair isn't going to satisfy the far left anywhere. And he certainly has his flaws. As the recent creation of the 'Constitutional Affairs Department' shows, he's not great at consulting others and tries at times to rule by fiat. His attitude towards civil liberties is in need of a serious adjustment. The joke about him that "these are my principles, and if you don't like them, I have others" is more true than not. And god only knows why, he seems intent on keeping Peter Mandelson around. For that matter, the situation isn't identical. Blair faces a Tory opposition that is clearly unfit for government, something that is well known in the public; I'd like to make some crack here about the lack of ability amongst the Republicans, but I'll avoid it and just say that there is no public consensus that the Republicans should not be in power.

That said, there's a lot that the Democrats need to take from Blair if they are to win back the White House and Congress - a muscular stance on national security and the military, sound economic policies that include a progressive tax system and measures to redistribute income, being 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime,' and the creation of a vaguely 'third way'-ish social democracy that is as efficient as possible.

Blair is a damn fine role model. After 6 years - and despite the current scandals - he remains quite popular, even moreso than his party. If an election were held today, WMDs and all, Labour would win an easily win re-election - at most, I'd think, it would lose about a couple dozen seats (and then only if the Lib Dems refused to participate in strategic voting). Another 6 years of Labour government seems quite likely - barring something massive and unseen, the only question is how long Blair sticks around until Gordon Brown takes over.

Yeah, I'd like to see the Democrats win a huge majority and hold it for 6 years and then some too.

 
Your tax dollars at work

The government prosecutors are still attempting to block Zacarias Moussaoui any access to Ramzi Binalshibh, whom he wants to call at his trial.

Why, you may ask?

Because they feel that Binalshibh's testimony would help convict Moussaoui rather than exonerate him.

Their priorities seem to be, um, a little mixed up. Prosecutors are supposed to seek convictions, not innocence.

As I've said before, there are legitimate national security concerns at hand, as the prosecutors have also argued (btw, the prosecutors have also argued that the Sixth Amendment right to call witnesses does not extend to non-citizens held overseas, though they apparently at least now admit that Binalshibh is in custody) but there is plenty of room for a reasonable compromise that would allow the presentation of any evidence from Binalshibh - say, allowing Moussaoui's stand-by lawyers to take a deposition from Binalshibh, with Judge Brinkema then admitting any relevant parts. It should be possible to allow any relevant evidence to be introduced without giving Binalshibh a public forum nor giving Binalshibh and Moussaoui any means to communicate. In the meanwhile, the prosecutors should avoid trying to undermine their own possibilities of success.* Can they really be that stupid?

*The trial can't begin until this issue is settled. In the end, Moussaoui will be found guilty of something - unless the prosecutors are even more incompetent than it currently appears - as he has admitted to ties to Al Qaeda in open court during past hearings, though he continues to deny that he was the '20th hijacker.'

 
Just read this TPM post, ok?

 
This post will explode 15 seconds after it is read

I've been dwelling on this Matt Yglesias post for the last couple of days, in which he writes:

Am I alone in feeling like the outbreak of Israel-Palestinian peace talks actually increases the frequency of terrorist attacks and military reprisals? I don't have a quantitative analysis at hand, but that certainly seems to be the pattern to me. Rejectionist Palestinian groups seem to actually hold their fire and wait for moments when it looks like peace might be given a chance and then they launch their attacks in order to derail things. Of course, never negotiating is also not a long-term solution.

Well, yeah, not negotiating isn't a solution.

Negotiating in secret, though, is the only thing that's ever really worked. The only thing that gets remembered about the Israeli-Egyptian deal - well, besides the handshake on the White House lawn and Sadat's trip to Jerusalem - was that the deal was struck after a long and arduous period of negotiations at Camp David. What gets forgotten are the secret contacts that had to be established between the two governments before negotiations were possible. The Oslo Accords were negotiated in almost total secrecy until the announcement of a deal was made. The Jordanian-Israeli accords were more or less agreed on privately years before they were publicly announced

(Jordan renounced its claims to the West Bank in the early 1970's and reached a tacit agreement with the Israeli government in the mid-1980's that a peace agreement would be signed as soon as the Israelis could reach a deal - that is, any deal - with the Palestinians. It was untenable in the domestic political arena for the Jordanian government to make a peace deal without something for the Palestinians)

The only viable agreements have been those that have been reached in secret, neutering the ability of extremist groups to derail the process, and presented to the public as a fait accompli. When open negotiations are ongoing, the desire for security against extremist actions leads to greater violence on both sides, disabling whatever silent majorities for peace do exist. It would then appear that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen and of the Israeli government should be sequestered away somewhere, quietly, safely, and secretly, where they can reach an agreement that will satisfy each side and put an end to the violence. Now.

Don't tell us, just do it.

UPDATE: Corrected for spelling, grammar, and general coherence.

Friday, June 13, 2003
 
Reshuffle-board, part 4

The Guardian is reporting that Estelle Morris, the former Education Secretary, will return as an Arts Minister (no word on whether Blackstone or Howells are out), and that Margaret Hodge will become a Minister for Children (no word on what department, though, Alan Johnson replaces her as Higher and Further Education Minister)

More as it develops ... or until I lose interest, whichever comes first.

UPDATE: The BBC's latest report is here. Michael Meacher is out as Environment Minister - he had clashed with Blair and others over GM crops (Meacher opposed allowing their use and importation). There's also been a few other minor changes. Overall, it appears that the reshuffle has been smaller than many had expected. I'm certainly disappointed ... I was hoping for a big finale with lots of explosions and fireworks, like a bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie.*

*Yes, I know that 'bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie' is redundant.

 
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

Read this PLA post, backed up by Ruminate This, the Rittenhouse Review, Bigwig, Dean Esmay, North Georgia Dogma and "even the conservative" Jay Caruso, among others.

First, while I oppose nearly any form of censorship, I would like to point out that de-linking is not a form of censorship, as it does nothing to inhibit the ability of the writer to write nor the reader to read.

Second, can I be a little paranoid for a minute? Anyone think that the person in question is just acting up to discredit left/liberal/etc. bloggers? (this makes no sense when you consider that, as Dwight and others have pointed out, this blogger has attacked Ricky of North Georgia Dogma, Gene Expression, Freespeech.com and a number of other righty blogs as well).

Third, anyone taking bets on when the person in question picks a fight with Sullivan or Reynolds?

UPDATE: Fourth, now it's time to stop feeding the beast. Oh, and anyone else who uses the 'car wreck' metaphor needs a good talking-to.

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One Pier Petersen responded to the WSJ's terming of the poor as 'lucky duckies' who avoid taxation ...

In this spirit, I propose a trade. I will spend a year as a Wall Street Journal editor, while one lucky editor will spend a year in my underpaid shoes. I will receive an editor's salary, and suffer the outrage of paying federal income tax on that salary. The fortunate editor, on the other hand, will enjoy a relatively small federal income tax burden, as well as these other perks of near poverty: the gustatory delights of a diet rich in black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, chickpeas and, for a little variety, lentils; the thrill of scrambling to pay the rent or make the mortgage; the salutary effects of having no paid sick days; the slow satisfaction of saving up for months for a trip to the dentist; and the civic pride of knowing that, even as a lucky ducky, you still pay a third or more of your gross income in income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes.

You know, this is just screaming for a bad reality show.*

*Yes, I know, 'bad reality show' is redundant.

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Timothy Garton Ash:

I don't want to live in a Europe that is trying to build its identity by asking itself how to stop America. It's hopeless, because to define yourself against the US will not unite Europe - it will split it down the middle, as we saw over the Iraq war. It split governments, with France, Germany and Belgium on one side, and most of the rest on the other. It split public opinion, with most people against war and against Bush, but certainly not against America. To be European today is, whether we like it or not (and I do like it), to be deeply intertwined with America - culturally, socially, economically, intellectually, politically. Why cut off your nose to spite your face? Why define yourself by who you are against, rather than by what you are for?

Good point. I hope people are listening (or, um, reading)

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Iain Murray of the Edge of England's Sword is guest-posting at the Volokh Conspiracy and has a post explaining why Blair isn't in trouble over the WMD issues.

The funny thing is that I agree with him, but I still think he's wrong.

As I've said before, I don't think Blair is in serious trouble. Iain is correct that Cabinet revolts are extremely rare in modern British politics. Thatcher is definitely the exception there. The only way that one seems possible now is the development of open warfare between Brownites and Blairites, something that seems roughly about as likely as aliens* landing in Parliament Square in the next hour or so.

A no confidence vote by the whole Parliament seems similarly unlikely, because the Tories have barely a quarter of the seats. Even if the Lib Dems were to vote against the government (which isn't certain), that would get them about a third of the Commons. The minor parties could also add in another dozen or so votes. If they all manage a strict party line, they would still need about 80 Labour rebels to defect, which is also extremely unlikely (a handful might vote for the motion, but most would not ... though those who would probably vote for the motion are those on the far left and ensconced in seats that will almost certainly re-elect them, unless Joseph Stalin can be re-incarnated to run against them).

Iain seems convinced, though, that Labour would be lose over a hundred seats if a snap election were called due to a no confidence vote. I don't see that happening. As he notes, Labour remains far more popular than the Tories. The Lib Dems could refuse to participate in strategic voting in marginal districts (urging their voters to vote Labour lest the Tories win), but this would cost a few marginal seats and wouldn't bring down the government. The Tories remain desperately unpopular across nearly every segment of the population and seem unready for government (save, I guess, for Iain Duncan Smith and Oliver Letwin).

Incidentally, there is one other way that Blair could lose power, which would be for a leadership challenge to be launched within the Labour Party. I am not sure what the exact mechanism for triggering a challenge is. The voting takes place through a complicated system by which the Trade Unions, the Labour MPs and Labour party members each vote, and each gets their vote weighted to 1/3 of the overall outcome.

It isn't quite clear who would run against Blair at this point. Although a challenger on the far left could probably be mustered, he would be unlikely to pick up many votes. About the only possible candidate (this excludes Gordon Brown) who might pose any threat to Blair at this point would be Robin Cook. John Major actually challenged himself to a leadership election in 1995 as a way to quiet the discontent within his party, which is a rather interesting and unique precedent, but not something I expect to see repeated.

*The extra-terrestrial type, not the illegal type.

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Added to the blogroll: Tom Runnacles, the watch, Ruminate This, and Alas, a blog

 
News in British

The Fire Brigades Union has approved the government's pay deal for a phase 16% pay rise and certain reforms by a 3-to-1 margin.

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The congestion charge is raising less revenue than expected due to lower traffic within the zone than had been expected.

 
Reshuffle-board, part 3

The Guardian is reporting that there's a fair bit of unhappiness over the reshuffle, principally over the elimination of the formal Welsh and Scottish Secretaries, the appointment of Lord Falconer - as he is an old friend of Tony Blair, some have seen the appointment as evidence of nepotism, particularly given Falconer's role in the Millenium Dome - and the sudden promise to eliminate the Lord Chancellor's position. While Lord Irvine and David Blunkett had been at odds lately, the odds were that one of them had to go, not one of their positions (Falconer is technically the Lord Chancellor now as the position cannot be eliminated until enabling legislation is passed). There was a widely held opinion that it was inappropriate to separate the administration of the judicial system as it had been set up, and to have the Law Lords serving as both political figures and judges.

The apparent new system - the actual details are yet to be published, as the plans seem to have been drawn up fairly quickly - include the creation of a new Supreme Court. Blunkett additionally said that "judicial appointments would be vetted by a system based on that which operates in the United States."

Um, because it works so well?

(and, as Polly Toynbee points out, now it appears that all that expensive wallpaper will go to waste)

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The summary in the Independent is here. An explanation of the reforms planned for the courts are here. The summary in the Times is here. Their explanation of the reforms planned for the courts is here. The Telegraph points out that the man now in charge of the English branch of the NHS (the Scottish health services are controlled by the Scottish Parliament) is a chain-smoking Scot and that the shifts within the Cabinet mean that Brownites now outnumber Blairites - though both are still outnumbered by Kinnockites (Neal Kinnock led Labour between 1983-92).

 
Cheap partisanship

Officials are saying that plans call for laying the cornerstone for the initial construction at Ground Zero during the 2004 Republican Convention. I cannot see how this would not be a completely inappropriate politicization of 9/11. I don't see how the Democrats could pull this off without being pilloried, yet here we are.

UPDATE: If you'll look at the version of the article now online, it's been culled of all information about the convention ... this smells funny. Any ideas about what the hell is going on here?

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Krugman on DeLay. Not shrill. Not partisan. Just true.

Thursday, June 12, 2003
 
Snarkiest post ... ever

Yes, I've broken down and joined ePatriots (that didn't take long now, did it?), against my better judgment (sorry, judgement).

Anyway, I'm not going to some of the astroturf that they've provided us with or anything else exhorting you to donate. If you want to donate, by all means do it, and you're welcome to do it via the donation site I've set up or by any other means that you can find and would prefer to use. If you don't want to donate, you don't have to. I don't intend to make it a central feature of the blog.

And besides, if your donations total $100, I get a bumper sticker ... which might be a hell of a lot more useful if I owned a car (don't tell the feds).

(actually, I nearly owned a bumper a couple of months ago, but no car ... it's really a far less interesting story than you'd think, however)

 
Reshuffle-board, part 2

The Guardian's report is here. The report in the Times is here. The Independent's report is here. The Telegraph's report is here. The report in the Evening Standard is here.

Lord Irvine has retired as Lord Chancellor, as expected, and it appears that the office will be terminated, with most of the duties of the office - the oldest in the British political system - shifted to a new office on Constitutional Affairs, which will be headed by Lord Falconer, an old friend of Tony Blair. Falconer's department will also include the rump of the Welsh and Scottish offices. The former Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, will become the Leader of the House, and will still speak in the Commons on Welsh issues, though his actual duties within the department will remain unclear. The Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, will maintain a similar role in speaking on Scottish issues. The current Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, appears to have left the Cabinet entirely. The current Leader of the House, John Reid, will become the new Health Secretary, replacing the long-serving Alan Milburn, who has stepped down to spend more time with his family.

It appears that Milburn resigned of his own free will and was not forced out. Liddell is reported to have volunteered to retire from government. The oft-combative Reid comes into the Health job while the foundation hospitals row continues, and it should be interesting to see if he turns out much as the similarly combative Charles Clarke has as Education Secretary, where Clarke replaced Estelle Morris. Since then he seems to have wasted no opportunity to put his foot in his mouth (although many of the problems seem to be exaggerated and not exactly new). Geoff Hoon, John Prescott and Margaret Beckett have not been shifted, as some had hypothesized. Apparently there will still be no 'Minister for Europe' and the International Development Ministry will remain independent of the Foreign Office.

The shake-up seems to have been smaller than some had expected, though I can't yet find anything describing any changes at the middle and lower levels of the ministries. The reshuffle has also been a fairly rare instance of shrinking rather than expanding the senior Cabinet positions.

UPDATE: BBC Radio 4 is reporting that the Tories are denouncing the abolition of the Lord Chancellor's position and that the SNP and Plaid Cymru are upset about the abolition of the Cabinet-level Scottish and Welsh Offices. Apparently the reason that I can't find the junior ministerial appointments is that the reshuffle of those ranks won't be announced until tomorrow.

 
My links policy

I've been meaning to put this up here for a while.

I'm not an automatic reciprocal linker. In the past, I've had a couple of blogs link to me that I felt I should not link back to. One of them contained far more female nudity than could possibly considered artistic. Another one of them was in a language that I suspect to be Icelandic (this one).

So, basically, I'll link to anyone who asks me to link to their site, so long as it's not written by someone who espouses bigoted views or is just a complete nutjob, and as long as it is written in either English or some language that I have at least a rudimentary knowledge of.* I reserve the right not link to the blog if it is completely unrelated to the subjects that I deal with and appears to be of absolutely no interest whatsoever to my readers (I don't think this will happen). I also reserve the right to change this policy whenever the hell I feel like it. Check it regularly ... if you need a good sleep aid.

I use the blogroll to check to see if blogs that I regularly read have been updated. Thus, I occasionally will add blogs to the blogroll without any request from the author. Odds are that it's probably not yours, though.

As far as linking to me, I ask for you to follow the basic rules of fair citation ... that is, don't plagiarize anything. I aim to follow the same idea in linking to others on the blogroll and within individual posts

*Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Latin ... not that I expect to ever find a blog in Latin.

 
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

ePatriots is up and running. Despite my earlier qualms, you will probably me putting up my own donation board in the near future. Uh, to test it out, of course. OK, no, I really want to see if I can be of any help ... and it's an ego thing as well. I do reserve the right to return to my earlier views, though, and pull the thing off my website if I feel that the system does, as I fear, not work if it gets too decentralized.

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Dumbass. (via Atrios)

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Yep, that's me.

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David Adesnik discusses the immutable laws of Maureen Dowd and ends with a plea for her firing. Actually, I'd like to broaden that plea, and just request that the New York Times and Washington Post get rid of all of their columnists. Other than Krugman, Dionne and Kinsley, none of them are really intelligent, insightful, creative and good reporters on a regular basis. Some of them - Dowd and George Will are probably the worst offenders (I don't think Will has written a column that isn't just a summary of the talking points offered by the RNC headquarters with a couple of faux-witty bon mots added in the last couple decades) - fail all of these tests on a regular basis.

UPDATE: Now that I think about it, Anne Applebaum is generally worth reading, and Diehl, Hoagland, King and Ignatius at the WaPo are probably deserving of another chance (other than Hoagland, none of them writes particularly regularly), as was Sebastian Mallaby, who seems to be on permanent vacation. One of the commenters also defends Bob Herbert. Herbert is definitely a damn fine writer and reporter (or, um, his assistants are). The Tulia case showed him at his best. He often, though, succumbs to a spectacularly fatalist view of the world - everything is going badly and he has no solutions (as opposed to Safire, who has a solution to everything in mind even where things are going swimmingly).

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On one hand, the Rittenhouse Review has the best damn linking policy out there, but on the other hand, it may also have the worst damn advertising out there.

A little completely unsolicited advice: either run or don't run, but don't drag out a cheap ploy for too long and toy with us.


UPDATE: Jim says the ads aren't his. I apologize for any ... thing I wrote.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: To explain ... at the time I wrote the initial post, it appeared that TRR was either taking a joke about campaigning too seriously or a real campaign not seriously enough. The ads are fake, and thus, what I wrote is moot.

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This is probably not the correct response to any death, but I suppose I can understand it.

 
News in British

The firefighters are finally expected to approve their pay deal today, though a defeat of the deal is not impossible. The firefighters had to settle for a phased-in 16% pay rise and certain reforms, rather than the insane 40% immediate raise and refusal to consider any reforms that they had proposed.

UPDATE: BBC Radio 4 is reporting that the pay deal was approved ... I think.

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I've been told that I won't pass my Public Economics exam if I don't link to this column by Nick Barr in the Guardian on the advantages and disadvantages of the Labour plan for loans for university students and the Tory plan to eliminate university fees (I took Nick's Public Economics course).

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Thank you, Julie Burchill, for putting the thoughts of 60 million Britons to words.

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I have nothing against ColdPlay. They, um, don't suck, which is actually a fairly positive assessment given the current state of the music industry. Virgin Radio, though, seems insistent on playing ColdPlay all day long, every day.

And it would be a hell of a lot more bearable if they actually were playing more than the same three songs.

 
Reshuffle-board

The papers are rife with reports that a reshuffle of the Cabinet is imminent. The Guardian's report is here, the Telegraph's report is here, the report in the Times is here, the report in the Independent is here and the Evening Standard's report is here. A number of minor reshuffles have already taken place during this Parliament - due to the resignations of Estelle Morris, Robin Cook and a couple others at the outset of the war on Iraq, and a couple of other sackings.

The reshuffle is expected to mostly deal with middle and lower-ranking figures. The only major figure expected to stand down is Lord Irvine, who has been the Lord Chancellor since Labour came into power in 1997. Lord Irvine has been criticized on a number of issues, including his acceptance of a hefty pension and salary, as well as his purchase of expensive wallpaper for the Lord Chancellor's residence. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, aren't expected to shift. Straw has reportedly been opposed to the proposed creation of a full-time Minister for Europe - mostly to deal with the new EU constitution - who would be a half-step below Cabinet rank. Blunkett is also said to be opposed to the creation of a new Ministry of Justice - ministries are regularly created and closed in Britain, unlike in the U.S. - that would deal with the complicated mess of powers currently split among the Home Secretary - which deals with policing and criminal sentencing policy - the Lord Chancellor's office - which administers the criminal courts and civil law - and the Attorney General's office. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, are reportedly tipped for promotion, though my math seems to indicate that there are more individuals tipped for promotion than there are slots to be opened.

There is also talk that the Welsh and Scottish Secretaries may be combined into a single post for the devolved regions (Northern Ireland will not be immediately be included, as negotiations over Stormont are still ongoing). The current Scottish secretary, Helen Liddell, has apparently complained that she has been given a non-job, as most of the Scottish Secretary's traditional powers have been given to the Scottish Parliament (the Welsh Assembly is less powerful, and thus the Welsh Secretary maintains some powers). There was also talk in the past that John Prescott, the Deputy PM (who basically maintains control over a wide range of various minor departments that don't fit logically into other departments) may be bumped up into the Lords - and that the International Development Ministry may be folded back into the Foreign Secretary's fold, in the wake of the Clare Short debacle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
 
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

Oliver Willis points out that Michael Oxley has defended a bill to combat internet gambling - on the basis that it will fight terrorism.

Is it me, or have the Congressional Republicans reached the point that they'll claim that anything will fight terrorism ... except for the bills that are actually intended to fight terrorism?

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Oh, Scheiße und Bumsen.*

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Kos is already up to about $11,500 in donations already realized, and I think it's about twice that in donations year-long. Probably more, actually. See here for my thoughts.

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The Rittenhouse Review has returned to working order.

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Tacitus points to the latest round of Democrat-bashing at ESPN. Of course, I was on this subject, all the way back last week (dunno why I'm being so self-referential today).

Easterbrook has a point, of course, in that the blatant use of ghost-writing isn't intellectually honest. On the other hand, in spite of the the cases to the contrary that he cited, it's hardly an unheard-of practice, and singling out Sen. Clinton is both unrealistic and dishonest.

But who knew that ESPN was such a bastion of the wingnut school of conservatism?

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A damn (but not damned) good idea.

*I like Babelfish, no? (interestingly, in playing around, I've noticed that the word that translates to 'shit' is fairly similar in all of the Romance languages - some variant of 'merd,', while the word that translates to 'fuck' is different in all of them ... there's probably some greater significance to this but I lost any interest in it about fifteen words ago)

 
News in British

As part of the Brown-Blair settlement on the Euro tests, pro-Euro ministers have been unleashed and told to go forth and spread the gospel of eventual Euro membership in a travelling 'road show.' I really can't believe that it's a good idea to promote the benefits of entry so loudly when it is clear that entry in the near future is not entirely likely. Raising expectations above what is realistically possible is not a sound idea, either as economic or political policy.

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The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), a quango that advises the government on agricultural policies, has said that the halal (Muslim) and kosher (Jewish) methods of butchering animals should be banned immediately. They feel that the methods are unnecessarily cruel, as the animals are killed by having their throats slit while conscious.

Dumb, stupid, and worse.

As Brian Klug argues in the Guardian, "Ultimately, 'humane' and 'ritual' slaughter are racial metaphors for Us (modern, civilised, decent) and Them (backward, savage, merciless)." Klug points out that the banning of ritual slaughter methods has often been used as a quasi-racist policy undertaken during times of rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments.

Or, as Camilla Cavendish argues in the Times, FAWC "has decided that Jews and Muslims should sublimate their religious traditions to a minority group of infinitely greater importance. Cows."

Unless the importation of halal and kosher meat is banned as well, such a restriction of slaughter methods would simply lead to the greater importation of halal and kosher meat from other countries that still allow the practice, which would be more costly to the communities demanding the restricted meat. Such a move would also severely undermine British companies that currently serve this niche market. A ban will not end the practice, just shift it elsewhere in all likelihood ... though the increase in costs might also create a few vegetarians as well.

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The Telegraph is reporting that George Galloway's suspension from the Labour Party will likely be concluded before the selection process for the next general election. Although this will mean that he can be considered as a prospective candidate, he will be likely unable to run as a Labour candidate in the actual general election anyway, as his district is being eliminated and split between two districts due to redistricting. He apparently is also yet to launch libel action against the Telegraph, as he has promised to do, in response to charges that he was a paid agent for Saddam Hussein.

 
Death and Taxes

There's an interesting articline in the New York Times on the clash between many House Republicans and the White House over the low-income tax credit. This is clearly an issue that the Democrats will be able to make noise about, assuming they can actually stand united. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, since DeLay has clearly reached the Thatcher-in-her-third-term level of hubris, and Bush showed a willlingness when dealing with Lott to take on the leadership in his own party when he feels that they are doing something that might undermine his own political viability.

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Roy Blunt, the House Majority Whip tried to insert a provision into a Homeland Security bill that would aid Philip Morris USA, the tobacco dealer. The provision was actually not unreasonable - it dealt with restricting illegal sales of cigarettes and internet sales - but it was clearly not germane. What is far worse is that Blunt was clearly compromised by his relationship with the company and should never recused himself from anything relating to the company long ago. Besides the fact that he has received large sums of donations from the company, Blunt's son works for them, and Blunt apparently has something of a 'personal relationship' ongoing with a company lobbyist.

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Anne Applebaum has a column worth reading about the deep and borderline illogical hatred of George W. Bush in much of Europe. I disagree with Bush on nearly every single thing that he's done, but I still have a hard time keeping a straight face at some of the allegations that I sometimes hear levied against him. I believe him to be a lousy President, but I don't consider him a sign of the apocalypse either.

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Come back, Mike! OK, so there's no one else left, but please come back! (and tell Lang to get rid of Esherick already)

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
 
Things I wish I hadn't learned

You know how M&M's are supposed to 'melt in your mouth and not in your hand'?

Well, the British ones don't quite pass the test. Ewwww.

 









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And now for something completely different ...

David Beckham has reportedly been sold (contingent on certain conditions being met) from Manchester United to Barcelona. I fully expect to hear people running around in the streets screaming "THE END IS NIGH!" tonight.

UPDATE: Beckham is apparently upset at being used as a pawn in the upcoming elections for the presidency of Barcelona - the candidate who arranged for the transfer has run on a platform of delivering Beckham - and set to reject the deal.

 
Around the blogosphere in 80 seconds

Kos is beta-testing the new ePatriots system for the DNC, which will "will allow bloggers to take "credit" for raising donations on behalf of the Democratic Party's eventual nominee fund." As I write this, he's raised about $8000 in 12 hours. Not too shabby.

Kos wants to make the system available to all webmasters and bloggers. I have to wonder if this a little elitism might actually work better here. Although the donations have to come with a verification that the donor is legally allowed to do so - and officially channeled through the blogger, anyway - the system will have to be carefully monitored for any violations of election law. Moreover, Kos has already raised $8000. Putting this up on every blogger's site might remove some of the urgency from the matter, just as putting a PayPal box up on nearly every damn site does. If the ePatriots system is limited to a few big bloggers, it might actually be easier to get concerted fundraising drives going than if the system is installed everywhere.

UPDATE (8:30 BST*) - He's now up to $9700 and above $20,000 when promised year-long donations are counted.

*Technically speaking, the UK is currently in BST, or British Summer Time, not GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time. I don't know if the Irish were consulted in the name, and yes, I am that anal retentive.

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Atrios has a number of posts up on the SCLM. I really should be more outraged than I am about all this.

 
Euro update

Again, rather than bother trying to link and summarize ever damn article, I'll just point to the individual papers - the Guardian, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Independent and the Telegraph. The Independent also has this summary of the editorial reactions of the different newspapers in Britain, Europe and America, as well as this summary in the Telegraph of Gordon Brown's speech in the Commons, if you need something to put you to sleep that's more powerful and less addictive than sleeping pills.

The speech clearly intended to have something to offer everyone. In doing so, it also offered everyone something to get pissed off about. It did strike me as a little unrealistically pro-Euro. I'm simply not convinced that the circumstances will be right for Britain to join the Euro, let alone not significantly harmful, any time soon. At the same time, though I have little reason to directly argue against the merits of a rolling review, I do worry that it will give too much of an opportunity to die-hard Europhiles to ignore reality on a regular basis.

 
The Worst Generation

Boo-hoo.

The boomers are complaining again how they've been handed such a raw deal.

They can't jet around the world or retire to Tuscany at 45. They can't all send their children to Ivy League schools. They can't stand to see all the horrors of the world on their 100-plus channels on TV. They can't all be multi-millionaires (unless inflation sets in).

Uh-huh.

Let's see. This is the generation that could neither stop nor win the war in Vietnam. This is the generation that has managed to bring the stock market to its knees twice in a decade-and-a-half. This is the generation that has decided to leave me and my hypothetical children drowning in debt. The best generation with the highest levels of human capital ever experienced can't figure out how to build any social capital. This is the generation that has been coddled to the point that it can't solve any problems and won't stop complaining about them ... unless their psychiatrist gets the mix of drugs right. The generation that broke all the social norms and now wonders what the hell is wrong with kids today. The generation that doesn't vote and then can't stop whining about what's wrong with our political system.

I hope I'll be excused for not having any sympathy for them. I fear that there's going to be a large mess left behind that my cohort and I will have to clean up.

Monday, June 09, 2003
 
With regards to the "who wants to stage a nasty and pointless blog-fight?" post that the CalPundit linked to, let me just say the following.

Um, it was meant as a joke. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is also the font of misunderstanding.

So far, I've been called a "F***ing commie freak" (in jest, I think) and the reason that the blogosphere will soon become "nothing but catfights, shameless fund-raising and name calling, a vast wilderness of dreck speckled with islands of obscurity" (that one was meant seriously).

Actually, if you'll read this post, I'd say that the blogosphere is anything but vast.

OK, there have been a lot of stupid blog-fights going on lately, and I intended to make fun of them. To that end, I have no intention of actually staging a 'blog-fight' with the two individuals who accepted my joking challenge (one of whom rescinded their acceptance). I'm happy to debate anyone if there's any policies or ideas on which we disagree on their merits, but I'm not intending to get into any mud-slinging. Nor do I intend to buy any beer for Matt, unless he wants to drop by the Dean Swift next to my flat.

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Yes, I know, the comments haven't been functioning for most of today. I'm sorry, but I have to point the finger at Haloscan on that one. I gave up on Enetation a week ago because I was fed up with the comments always crashing. Haloscan hasn't exactly been doing any better. It's a free service, and I got what I paid for.

 
Around the Blogosphere in 80 seconds

When you've pissed off both Atrios and Josh Chafetz simultaneously, you've probably screwed something up pretty badly. And yes, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Dumbass) has decided put a hold on the promotions of 800 Air Force officers until four C-130 planes are delivered to the Idaho Air National Guard. What a putz.

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Various Democrats have called for an investigation into the apparent requests for political contributions to various Republicans and their affiliated organizations in return for exempting Westar Corp. from various regulations. The Justice Department has refused to comment. Not good enough. (also via Atrios)

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Kieran Healy works the market, but, as Brad DeLong points out in the comments, doesn't do math.

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Kos and MyDD are now working for the man.

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Pandagon: "George W. Bush v. The Kool-Aid Man - One is mostly water and exotic chemicals and comes at an affordable price. The other is the Kool-Aid Man. Which one is easier for you to stomach? You be the judge!"

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Added to the blogroll: Marstonalia

 
News in British

Unison, the major public sector union, is reportedly setting up unified funds that would allow it to hold co-ordinated strike actions. It is illegal in Britain to hold sympathy strikes (this is a result of the 1926 General Strike), but Unison apparently plans to hold strikes across all of its sections on the same days as a way to bring the public sector to its knees and undermine the government.

If carried out, this will end in disaster for everyone but the Tories.

The British people haven't responded well to such action well in the past. Bringing back the tactics of Arthur Scargill is likely to bring back the Thatcherite Tories. To all those who fear that Britain might turn into the 51st state, such massive strike action could well bring this about - by forcing the election of a Tory government with a mandate to amputate the trade union movement and to pass the British equivalent of the Taft-Hartley Act.

I remain a strong believer in labor (sorry, labour) unions. But allowing a monopoly on the labor supply to exercize (sorry, exercise) the same monopoly powers that are considered unallowable with other goods and services may be very, very costly. Labour unions cannot expect gain by seeking to undermine the Labour Party.

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Gibraltar isn't going anywhere.

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The Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, is planning to move forward with plans on road pricing. Darling is arguing that the plans - and they are still plans, any concerted action being far off - must be considered, at least to some extent, as it is infeasible to deal with the traffic problems under the current circumstances, unless the entire country is to be paved over. The Times thinks it's an idea worth considering.

The roads are currently clogged up in many areas and in need of some aid. I'm not convinced that things are really likely to get a whole lot worse than they already are. The population isn't growing that quickly, though car ownership will probably grow somewhat faster due to the high income elasticity of demand. The satellite tracking program raises a number of serious civil liberties issues. (I'm not entirely convinced that it's technically feasible to build such a system right now, but that probably won't last). Moreover, the gas (sorry, petrol) tax is a pretty good Pigouvian tax on air pollution, and satellite tracking may withdraw the incentive to use more environmentally friendly vehicles if the petrol tax is reduced to make the move revenue-neutral. Using toll roads may help somewhat relieve clogged roads somewhat, though there are a couple of problems. Toll plazas tend to increase concentrated air pollution (though this can be remedied somewhat by the use of EZ-Pass situations). Toll roads are a regressive form of taxation, but it's not really feasible to design a flat or progressive toll.

There aren't any panaceas to be had here.

Bugger.

 
Britain and the Euro

Gordon Brown's verdict is due in a little less than four hours from now. I don't think any real surprises are to be expected. He's going to say that Britain should not move forward yet, but should take secondary action to prepare for eventual entry into the Euro-zone.

There's a ton of articles written today in the major newspapers - the Guardian, the Times, the Independent, the Telegraph and the Evening Standard - and I'll just link to them rather than linking to every damned article and column, none of which is saying anything particularly surprising. If I can squeeze it in, I'll go over to Westminster and try to get into the Strangers Gallery in the Commons to watch.

UPDATE: Well, you may want the opinion piece in the Times by Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader. Duncan Smith increasingly seems to me to be a decent and upright individual. Unfortunately, he leads the Tories, who don't know what to make of someone like that.

Also, I'm not going to bother going over to the Commons. I've done something to my foot, and standing outside in line for an hour doesn't really seem like a good idea right now. I think it'll be on the radio.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: It's on Radio 5. It's funny. When the chamber is empty, there's a lot of polite debate and joshing around. When the chamber is full, the MPs really behave like children, heckling the speaker (though not the Speaker).

One other thought. There's been a lot of talk that, once Gordon Brown takes over, the Tories will be revitalized, and Brown will end up as a footnote Prime Minister relative to Blair, just like Callaghan to Wilson and Douglas-Home to MacMillan. I don't think so. He's putting on a pretty damn good show. He would have to deal with a Tory party returning to the offensive and the problems within his own party, but I find myself thinking that Gordon Brown could do a damn fine job. Or Jack Straw, for that matter (just, please God, not Mandelson, Hain, Clarke, Prescott or Reid)