Monthly Archives: December 2002

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Seasonal break 

I anticipate doing somewhere between little and no writing until 30 December at best. The next week for me is unadulterated time spent with my family. If the computer gets switched on, it will be because the children are playing games, not me checking email or writing Davos Newbies.

Happy holidays to all my readers.

Krugman’s Christmas message 

Merry Christmas from Paul Krugman: “It may be that the bad few weeks the administration has just had were the result of random events. But I think the public is finally waking up to the fact that the people in the White House know a lot about gaining power, but not much about what to do with it.”

Nestle reconsiders 

Nestle is rowing fiercely against the current to repair the damage caused by the revelation of their heinous dispute with Ethiopia. It’s definitely a step forward that they are saying they will invest any compensation in Ethiopia, but they are going to have to abandon the suit entirely.

What I found most interesting about The Guardian article is the sophistication of the Oxfam response. “Boycotting Nestle products won’t help the poor farmers who sell to the company,” said Justin Forsyth, head of policy at Oxfam. “What people should do if they want to help is to write or email Nestle and ask them to drop the claim.” That demonstrates to me what effective NGOs should be doing.

Changing shapes 

Here’s some research that’s easy to mock: “A comprehensive analysis of Playboy magazine centrefolds over the past 50 years shows the models have become more androgynous.”

I had a wonderful teacher at university who was a Miltonist. He had an extraordinary collection of Paradise Lost editions, and I particularly remember one that had a picture of Eve on the fore-edge. So, depending on how you shifted the pages of the book, you could choose a thin Eve or a Rubenesque Eve. The ideal woman no matter how taste shifted over the ages.

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More Swiss brilliance 

I don’t think the Nestle headquarters in Vevey is filled with nincompoops, but you have to wonder when you read that they are chasing one of the world’s poorest countries for $6 million. Leave aside the humanitarian concerns, which should be front and centre for the Swiss food giant, how can they calculate that pursuing the Ethiopians for a few million is going to benefit the corporation? How many disgusted customers — like me — need to decide not to buy their products before the cost is vastly greater than their suit seeks?

Add to the list of great Swiss events recently: the collapse of Swissair, the implosion of ABB, the rise of a xenophobic political party, etc, etc.

Architecture in lower Manhattan 

If you want to get a sense of what a certain crowd of today’s architects are thinking, it’s worth browsing through the seven designs submitted to replace the World Trade Center. These mark a huge step forward from the boring vanilla developers’ plans that raised such an outcry earlier this year, but there still is plenty of scope to go wrong.

To my eyes, the design choice should be a straight contest between Foster Associates and Daniel Liebeskind. And in the end, I’d plump for stormin’ Norman Foster. I think his design looks beautiful, and I know his practice has the ability to build it in a thoroughly accomplished way. Liebeskind is a wonderfully talented designer, but he’s never built anything remotely on this scale and god is in the details, as Mies once said.

Some of the other designs are absolutely wretched, particularly the strange grid presented by the revived New York Five — Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Gwathmey/Siegel et al.

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Blair 04 

“He’s tough on national security, he has an alternative global vision, people like him and he is a beautiful, reassuring speaker. He’s Bill Clinton without baggage. I’d say he’s a natural.” Tom Friedman reckons the Democrats should plump for Tony Blair as their presidential candidate. Well, it would improve my job prospects. There is, of course, the constitutional requirement that a president be born in the US, but since some people reckon Britain is the 51st state anyway…

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Runners and riders 

I can’t fathom why it’s taken me so long to catch up with the Daily Kos’s Cattle Call analysis of Democratic hopefuls for 2004. Well written and, to my eyes, pretty much spot on.

Inspired by Daily Kos, Uggabugga has come up with this extraordinary chart.

Cattle call: Uggabugga's graphic of the Daily Kos Cattle Call

99 years 

Brink Lindsey commemorates the 99th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The Wright Brothers National Memorial, which he mentions, is an immensely evocative place to visit. In addition to the simple markers showing takeoff and landing points for their first flights, there is a wonderful parade of private planes landing briefly throughout the day at the adjacent airfield. If you’re a pilot, you touch down to pay your respects to the great innovators.

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As Gujarat goes… 

It looks like the world’s biggest democracy is entering a dark period.

What is Europe? 

Chris Bertram has two excellent postings on Europe today. First he considers the impact of EU enlargement: “enlargment, coupled with the projected new European Constitution, is arguably more important for the long-term than anything else happening at the moment”. He also ponders French hostility to Turkey joining the EU (at the Copenhagen summit the French, with tacit German assistance, scuppered the plans of Tony Blair and others to set an early date for Turkish accession talks): “The claim that Turkey is not a European country presupposes some definition of what Europe is. If that definition is institutional, and if France itself is the archetype of a ‘European’ country, then it looks as if Turkey is more ‘European’ than, well, Britain.”


Brad DeLong does a back-of-the-envelope calculation to reckon the average person is 435 times better off than 500 years ago.

Wie geht’s? 

I’m unclear whether anyone outside Germany is paying much attention to how much is going wrong. According to the Financial Times, business leaders reckon Germany is facing its biggest crisis since the war. The head of semiconductor group, Ulrich Schumacher, says he may have to move his company headquarters out of Germany because of punitive taxes. And recently re-elected chancellor Gerhard Schroeder seems to have forgotten to have a plan about what to do after the election.

Germany is the world’s number three economy and Europe’s most populous country. As long as it remains mired in the muck, it’s very hard to see Europe as a whole dragging itself out.

One small step 

Two worthwhile elegies on the 30 years (30 years!) since man last set foot on the moon. Marina Benjamin in The Guardian is eloquent, while Rand Simberg is angry.

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Nailing Lott 

The Rhetorica weblog wants to document the ways in which weblogs kept the Trent Lott story alive. It is soliciting all postingsof material on Lott since his reprehensible statements. Paul Krugman credits Josh Marshall with keeping it on the radar screen, forcing national media to run with it.

I have measured out my life with Google 

Like everyone, I’ll point to the year-end Google Zeitgeist. Steven Levy’s Newsweek paean to Google is a wonderful companion piece.

Signs in the city 

“The city has become a print-substrate, an almost anonymous structure which you read by way of notices, badges, signs, logos and banners.” If you like both cities and design, Peter Campbell’s musings on signs in the city is a good read.

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For opsophagoi 

A shower of tiny fish rained down on Korona, a village in the mountains of northern Greece, late Tuesday, Greek television reported today, attributing the incident to a mini-tornado.”

Understanding TIA 

TIA diagram: DARPA's schematic explanation of Total Information Awareness Doesn’t this make you feel safe?

Sects in the City 

“At 12,000 pages, it’s a bit longer than our usual offering, but I couldn’t put it down.” I know it’s serious stuff, but Ron Charles’s response to the Iraqi UN submission made me laugh.

Happy birthday 

Davos Newbies sidled onto the stage three years ago (actually three years and two days, but who’s counting), even though it didn’t get motoring until January 2000.

The site had its origins in my discussions with Dave Winer, who was just launching his Manila software for weblogs, before anyone really had a clue what weblogs were. I took the leap and have certainly never regretted it. I also, not coincidentally, invited Dave that year to Davos. An idea that’s been brewing at least since then emerged yesterday with Dave’s proposal for a Weblogs in Meatspace conference, modelled in some ways on his Davos experience. I certainly want to go when it happens.

My site will remain as Davos Newbies even though it has become steadily more and more detached from the physical event (I have no expectations of going to Davos in 2003, for example). I’m thinking of ways of remodelling the site to reflect the change from — in its origins — truly being about the Annual Meeting in Davos, to being more of a year-long Davos of the mind (or at least that’s what I aspire to). That will probably mean moving away from the wonderful design Garret did three years ago, which is nostalgic for the physical setting. Any thoughts and comments on this would be welcome.

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Snow jobs 

Matthew Yglesias provides some helpful pointers to views on Treasury secretary-designate John Snow: The Economist, Slate, Josh Marshall, Robert Kuttner and Brad DeLong. Daniel Gross’s Slate piece provides the most piquant judgements and the best background. The opinions range from unhappy to undecided.

Would you want this job? 

The New York Times provides a worrying perspective on the difficulties president-elect Lula is having in finding a new central banker. Latin America is going downhill economically (although Nicholas Kristof was a bit over the top in calling it the new Africa). A healthy Brazil, or at least a Brazil not plunging towards default, is critical for the whole region.

Technical difficulties 

If you have problems with the Bush administration, you’ll enjoy this brilliant Flash animation.

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Party life 

Matthew Yglesias asks some interesting questions about the lifespan of political parties. Might we be witnessing the extinction of Israel’s Labour party, he wonders. He cites the Conservative party in the UK as facing similar life or death issues. Perhaps. There’s a great deal of inertia in voting patterns, particularly in two party systems. The threat to the Conservatives here doesn’t come from Labour’s ascendency. It’s the possibility that the LibDems might overtake them. But under the first-past-the-post voting system here (winner takes all in each constituency), that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

The Treasury 

I’ve scanned all the usual suspects, but I can’t find much today about John Snow, the Treasury secretary designate, that I didn’t know yesterday. That’s disappointing.

The Wall Street Journal tells me Snow is a wonderful golfer, with a handicap of 8.6. (Incidentally, are we supposed to applaud his resignation from Augusta National? Surely he should have realised ages ago that it was a profoundly discriminatory organisation.) All the papers confirm yesterday’s Washington Post description of him as a world-class schmoozer. And everyone confirms that he was paid truckloads (or perhaps railcars) of money for running a so-so company. The Post probably does the best job, with an extensive description of Snow’s past as a deficit hawk — a strange background for someone expected to push for big tax cuts.

In an era of 24-hour news, I look to the best newspapers to provide me with informed analysis the day after events. Where is it? I’ll keep digging, as my friend Dave says.

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On Lindsey 

Brad DeLong on the tenure of Larry Lindsey as White House economic policy head is essential reading. “To the powers-that-be in the Bush White House, economic policies are way to reward favored groups of constituents. And their effect on the economy? They don’t need to think about no stinking effect of policy on the economy.”

More on Snow 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Treasury secretary-designate John Snow’s company, rail freight giant CSX, is no great shakes. “For all its progress, CSX still has the worst operating ratio, a common measure of railroad efficiency, among big North American railroads.” That sounds like a recommendation. And in 2001, Snow earned “$2.2 million in cash, plus $7.1 million in restricted stock awards. In addition he received $753,057 in additional compensation, including $117,900 in life-insurance premiums and $323,266 in ‘above market’ interest on deferred earnings”. When he retires he qualifies for Welch-like perks, including “use of private aircraft for the remainder of his life”. Just the man to tackle concerns about corporate governance.

Snow next 

The reports that John Snow, chairman and CEO of freight transportation group CSX, is to be the new US Treasury secretary sounds to me like repeating the mistake of the O’Neill appointment. My friend David Hale used to make a distinction between New York Treasury secretaries and Texan Treasury secretaries. This is definitely a Texan appointment, just like O’Neill (David was writing about Texas as a state of mind, rather than anything to do with specific geography).

Brad DeLong’s comment on the O’Neill resignation seems appropriate. “The Treasury Secretary should (a) be a strong voice helping the U.S. pursue good economic policies, (b) understand what the economic policies of the United States are, (c) be effective at using his extremely prominent and powerful post to tell outsiders about the economic policies of the United States, and (d) know how to use his — truly excellent, dedicated, and very large — career staff inside the Treasury building. Paul O’Neill was zero for four.”

The Washington Post reckons Snow is “a skilled schmoozer”, so that probably helps with Brad’s third requirement. He does have a doctorate in economics, so that might help with the second requirement. But a look at his long career in the hardly dynamic domestic transportation industry does not suggest to me someone on top of either global markets or the global economic situation. And it’s very hard to know how much the White House wants a strong voice at the Treasury in any case. Matthew Yglesias says many of the same things, but in a feistier way than I do.