Monthly Archives: January 2004

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Krugman gets it 

Krugman: “A Democratic candidate will have a chance of winning only if he has an energized base, willing to contribute money in many small donations, willing to contribute their own time, willing to stand up for the candidate in the face of smear tactics and unfair coverage. That doesn’t mean that the Democratic candidate has to be a radical — which is a good thing for the party, since all of the candidates are actually quite moderate. In fact, what the party needs is a candidate who inspires the base enough to get out the message that he isn’t a radical — and that Mr. Bush is.”

BloggerStorm 

The only way to follow the Iowa caucuses: BloggerStorm. It’s a weblog aggregator put together by the Dean team but it isn’t restricted to Dean supporters. Thrilling stuff.

Here’s Jim Moore explaining how it came about: “This afternoon Matt Gross and I were brainstorming in the conference room, at DFA headquarters in Burlington. Matt came up with the idea to put up an aggregator with feeds from folks who are participating in the Dean ‘Perfect Storm’ volunteer campaign in Iowa. Matt was inspired by the Feedster site that ran during BloggerCon. We jumped around the corner to the webteam area, and recruited Joe Rospars into the conversation. We soon had specd out a sort of instant Feedster site, Joe got ahold of two volunteers in the DeanSpace community, and later in the day we had BloggerStorm up and running.”

Must read, if you can find it 

When I was in Australia in November, I came across a reference to what the writer said was one of the great sports novels ever, The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones.

It’s a fictional account of the first UK tour by New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team in 1905. You don’t have to like rugby (I don’t) to be utterly swept away by the vivid, moving account of a long lost, innocent world. The prose is wonderfully poetic. A truly memorable book.

But it’s a pain to get hold of. Penguin New Zealand are the publishers. Neither Amazon UK nor Amazon.com stock it. I ordered it through the Australian bookshop Dymocks and it took two months to arrive. And it was worth the wait.

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Don’t get it 

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t understand the increasing volume of comment that Tony Blair is unhappy about the rise of Howard Dean because his fortunes are so tied to George Bush.

It’s understandable that Downing Street would prefer a Clinton-style New Democrat, like Wes Clark perhaps. After all, New Labour owes a clear debt to Clinton-style politics. But cast your mind back to 2000. Then all the commentators were convinced that a Republican victory would plunge Blair into the cold internationally. After all, he was great pals with Clinton.

The reality is that if Dean or any other Democrat wins in November, both Blair and the president-elect will be keen to establish a good relationship. And it’s odds on that they will succeed famously.

Bad science 

Via Richard Gayle, I’ve discovered Henry Waxman’s wonderful site tracking the Bush administration’s manipulation, interference and distortion of science. All of the methods chronicled by Ron Suskind and Paul O’Neill regarding shelving intelligent economic analysis for short-term political gain writ large in another sphere.

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Shared subscriptions 

Share Your OPML, “a commons for sharing outlines, feeds, taxonomy”, is encouraging the idea of sharing reading lists. I’ve produced this reading list on the kinds of economics and political thought that interests me.

Dean UK  

I’ve become involved with Dean for America UK. Two things motivated me. I want to get George Bush out of the White House in the November election, and I think Dean has the best chance of doing so. Why? It’s precisely Dean’s unconventional approach that gives him a chance against the enormous power of the incumbency and Bush’s $200 million campaign chest. I don’t think a conventional campaign will succeed against that.

The immediate focus of the UK effort is the Democrats Abroad UK caucus, which will be in London on 9 February. The results of that feed into the Democrats Abroad international caucus, which will be in Edinburgh 27-29 March. A small group of voting delegates is then sent to the convention.

I’m excited about the potential to build support for Dean in the UK, but having been thrilled by the innovative, networked campaign in the US, it is a bit disheartening to find that it makes no provision for expatriate Americans. All of the Project Commons tools on the Dean for America site rely on the user having a zip code. No zip code, no ability to “get local” or “find Dean supporters”.

Thanks to my blogging contacts, I’m trying to work behind the scenes to remedy this problem. There are over 7 million Americans outside the US, and they have a greater likelihood of voting than Americans in the US. This is pretty remarkable given the hurdles of the absentee ballot. Even though most of the expatriate Americans are civilians, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which administers the absentee ballot, is run by the Department of Defense. And the form to request an absentee ballot is something that could only be devised by military bureaucrats.

These expatriate votes are unlikely to be of much relevance in the primary season, but in a close general election they can make a real difference. Particularly this year, when the relationship the US has with the rest of the world will be so critically affected by the election result, intelligent campaigns should pay more attention to potential voters outside the 50 states.

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One for the sovereignty fetishists 

For followers of the peculiarly British debate over the euro, Chris Brooke has a fascinating discussion of how Margaret Thatcher’s guidestar, Friedrich Hayek, was seemingly an advocate of euro-like currency union.

“Why is it that, when push comes to shove, so many Conservative politicians show their colours as Hobbesians and Schumpeterians and sovereignty fetishists and Little Englanders, and so on, rather than engaging more constructively with the classical liberal tradition by which they claim, from time to time, to be inspired?”

Not good enough 

Harry Brighouse explains why Milwaukee-style education voucher programmes won’t translate to the UK: “Frankly, British private schools are not good enough. They want the cheapest and easiest children to educate which is why they preserve so fiercely ‘control over the admissions process’.”

Consistency 

From Talking Points Memo: “Number of days between Novak column outing Valerie Plame and announcement of investigation: 74 days. Number of days between O’Neill 60 Minutes interview and announcement of investigation: 1 day.”

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Tipping the tables 

Edward Hugh provides an interesting analysis of China. He starts with a caveat: “The biggest problem in assessing China is that no-one really knows. I do my best, but this is what has to be stated clearly, and up front. And anyone who says they do know is a charlatan.”

But this uncertainty doesn’t really matter, he concludes: “This is why I think all these comments about the China growth numbers being false are completely beside the point. Sure we have no idea what the real growth rate in China is, and an overall growth rate may be entirely irrelevant: what matters is the rate of growth in tradeables, and that, as everyone can see, is enormous. This is why there is the impact. Is this sustainable? As I saw we are on a long wave, the water-table just tipped towards Asia, and the part that isn’t going to India is draining off into China. So I feel there is more slack out there than people imagine.”

Make a difference 

Gary Yonge, who is often too angry for my taste, adds to the rapidly increasing volume of Dean analysis in UK papers with an exceptionally perceptive column. “Whether the next president is George Bush, Wesley Clark or Dean, [the Dean activists’] most valuable asset is not their candidate but the awakened awareness of their potential, as progressive citizens and voters, to make a difference.”

Community action 

The Guardian has an inspiring story today about Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, which decided to install its own broadband network, having been scorned by BT.

“The difference between Hebden Bridge’s co-op and other local ISPs is that it will provide an even cheaper broadband service, in addition to locally generated news and information. And with a newly installed wireless system, this West Yorkshire community could ultimately bypass the traditional phone system entirely, allowing villagers to phone each other without using the BT network at all. And it’s all done on a non-profit basis so that the savings for the co-op members are as high as possible.”

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Greatest threat  

It was enormously heartening to see that David King, the UK’s government’s chief scientific adviser, write so forcefully about the threat of climate change in Science magazine.

“In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today — more serious even than the threat of terrorismÂ… As the world’s only remaining superpower, the US is accustomed to leading internationally co-ordinated action. But at present the US Government is failing to take up the challenge of global warming.”

I’ve heard King talk about this subject. His argument is that the idea of delaying substantive action in the expectation that technology will provide a way out is an illusion. In Science (subscribers only), he writes, “Delaying action for decades, or even just years, is not a serious option. I am firmly convinced that if we do not stop now, more substantial, more disruptive, and more expensive change will be needed later on.”

Making a choice  

Edward Hugh has a calm, reasoned look at his preferences for the US election.

“I think it is important because we are going to be facing a set of relatively unique [sic], and certainly novel problems on the global level, and we all need a US president who is focused on those problems, open to dialogue, and capable of gaining the confidence of the rest of the world. Now more than ever we need a coalition of the willing as we try to get to terms with a whole slew of problems which can really only be confronted on a global level: the nation state has, as it were, seen better days.”

He singles out Dean and Clark. Good choices.

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Voiced dental stops for voiced interdental fricatives 

Someone who really knows this stuff reviews Arnold Schwarzenegger’s State of the State speech.

Primes  

Speaking of the Riemann Hypothesis (see below), it keeps cropping up in my reading.

That’s not surprising in The Music of the Primes, which is largely about the hypothesis. But I didn’t expect to be re-immersed in prime numbers when I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon’s Whitbread Prize winning novel. The narrator and central character, Christopher, has Asperger’s Syndrome and is incapable of empathy. He’s also a brilliant teenage mathematician and particularly interested in prime numbers.

The chapters of the book are numbered in consecutive primes. The only other book I can recall with unconventional chapter numbering is the wonderful Brilliant Orange, which is about the genius of Dutch football. Chapter numbers in that are like the fluid movement of the Cruyff-era Dutch teams, where a number 2 may well end up where a number 9 should be.

Not incidentally, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is the first book in years that I literally could not put down. I started reading it after the kids’ baths and, other than a brief pause for dinner, kept reading until I’d finished at 11.30 last night. A thoroughly original, absorbing wonderfully written book.

Known knowns to be 

The Guardian plumps for 10 scientific advances in the coming year, and 10 things we still won’t know.

There’s not much equivalence between the two lists. The advances are generally incremental and unlikely to get many pulses racing, while the “failures” would be huge discoveries, like a solution to the Riemann Hypothesis, quantum computing and viable nuclear fusion.

There is a likelihood, unmentioned, that startling and important discoveries will be made in 2004. But there is a near certainty that it will take years or decades for most of to recognise the importance of what is being discovered today.

The world’s smartest people 

An exaggeration from Philip Greenspun, but an important point (so long as you ignore his currency nonsense at the end of the post): “A country that has collected all of the world’s smartest people should always be able to do something new, interesting, and profitable.”

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Handiwork 

Apropos of my minor hardware adventure (see below), I’ve had occasion in the past year to think about how far my life (and the lives of most of my friends) is from actually making anything physical. I write, of course, and that sometimes manifests in a physical form. But for that I rely on paper mills, printers and binderies. I have the high-value end of the chain, fortunately, but I’m (to use an old phrase) quite alienated from the actual product.

So last year I took two courses in bookbinding. As a bibliomane, it seemed a natural diversion. And I love it. I’m not a particularly big fan, it turns out, of what is called book arts. Much of it is far too crafty for my tastes. But I love starting with sheets of paper, folding them by hand, stitching them by hand, rounding and backing, gluing the covers, etc.

There’s the pleasure of the resulting object. But more important to me, I think, is the actual, hard work of making something physical. Other than the odd household project, I suspect the last time I did anything like it was building Heathkits when I was age 16 or so.

Reconstruction 

Shortly before Christmas I had a catastrophic computer crash. Hard drive completely conked out. When I found out what data recovery services charge for retrieving your data (I had quotes ranging from £600 to £1,500), I resigned myself to starting afresh. I thought it would be a nightmare.

I bought a new hard drive and enjoyed slotting it in myself (it makes me think that next time I need a new computer, it might be fun to build it from scratch). And the other day I had a completely fresh computer. None of the many things I had added over the years, none of the little utilities that were cluttering the task manager, none of the files I was never going to look at again.

And it’s a great relief in a way. Fresh year, fresh start.

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Amazing  

Mars: Extraordinary colour photo from Mars Exploration Rover Spirit

The colour photos from Mars are amazing (the link is for an 8 MB image — there’s also a 40 MB one here).

Let it snow 

On the recommendation of Crooked Timberite Brian Weatherson, I read Geoff Pullum’s The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. Now I’ve come across Language Log, which includes Pullum among its contributors.

Appropriately, a recent posting is about words for snow in New Yorkish.

Unlikely connections  

I have an unreasonable fondness for unlikely connections. So I highly recommend Scott Martens’ latest posting on A Fistful of Euros which manages to segue neatly from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the banning of headscarves in European classrooms.

More important, he makes some valuable points: “The idea that there is some conception of Frenchness, Belgianness or even Europeanness to which immigrants must comply is an idea that deserves to be consigned to oblivion. Instead, governments ought to advance the idea that just as Arab Christians are still Arabs, and that Christians in the Middle East have distinctive institutions that are different from those found in Europe, European Muslims need to have distinctive institutions of their own too. Institutions which are at once Islamic and European, institutions which are not necessarily shared by their non-Islamic neighbours but which aren’t shared by their extra-European brethren either, will do far more to advance the cause of a common identity than social integration at gunpoint ever will.”

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Looking for Latinate constructions? 

Check out the Gibbon-o-Matic.

What matters  

When we look back at the beginning of 2004, the most significant story may well be the thaw between India and Pakistan, which is receiving minimal coverage from the big beasts of media.

It’s less than two years since the two countries came worryingly close to another war (with the potential use of nuclear weapons on both sides). So the news is decidedly good for the entire world. Both political systems are so febrile, however, that there is no guarantee that the current rapprochement will last.

There’s more good news for India in the views of management sage Peter Drucker in Fortune magazine (via Talking Points Memo).

“India is becoming a powerhouse very fast. The medical school in New Delhi is now perhaps the best in the world. And the technical graduates of the Institute of Technology in Bangalore are as good as any in the world. Also, India has 150 million people for whom English is their main language. So India is indeed becoming a knowledge center.”

Drucker contrasts India’s progress with China, where there are only 1.5 million college students in a population of 1.3 billion. He also worries about China’s ability to absorb its enormous rural population into its urban areas, a process already well advanced in India. Interesting counter-common wisdom thinking.

The invented story 

Jay Rosen nails it once again: “Along with his named sources, Nagourney invents an interesting composite figure to pass along the wisdom of his worried insiders — wisdom he’s collected by calling around, doing his reporting. The source’s name is usually ‘Democrats’ or ‘some Democrats,’ placeholder terms for a political faction speaking through Nagourney, who in this case is their medium. Why this faction, at this time? It must have something to do with what the reporter thinks is going on.”

That’s why I prefer the better kind of British journalism. No pretence of objectivity; biases declared and visible for all to see.