Monthly Archives: February 2004

Davos Newbies Home

Hopelessly out of touch 

Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture has some interesting analysis of how the economy will affect the US presidential election.

He points to the steady drop in non-farm payrolls since the recession ended and notes, “This chart screams seismic shift in something very basic. THAT is the the vulnerability of the incumbent — something very different is happening, and due to a slavish and dogmatic policy, the White House continues to miss it. The old Supply Side playbook hasn’t and won’t work in response to these issues. Any incumbent whose economic platform can be painted as ‘old school’ or ‘hopelessly out of touch with a modern and rapidly changing world’ is potentially vulnerable to ‘new economic ideas’.”

Another terrible Bush decision 

President Bush seemed to be with the good guys when he announced the US would cease using dumb landmines.

But as Stuart Hughes comments, that’s nowhere near enough.

“The Bush administration is increasing spending on mine clearance and mine awareness programmes by 50% as a way of deflecting attention from the real issue — that five years after it was accepted into international law, the USA still has not signed the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. That puts America in the same category as every other country in its much-vaunted Axis of Evil — Iran, Iraq and North Korea (the full list of non-signatories can be found here.)”

Davos Newbies Home

Copyright madness and James Joyce 

Crooked Timber reports on how James Joyce’s grandson Stephen is putting obstacles in the way of recitations of Ulysses on the 100th Bloomsday, this June 16.

The European Union’s extension of copyright to 70 years beyond the author’s death means Stephen controls Joyce’s work until 2011.

Crooked Timber comments: “In economic terms, the idea of copyright is to balance the interests of the public in the free dissemination of what is, once it is produced, a naturally public good (and therefore ‘wants to be free’), with the need to encourage authors to create works in the first place. The example of Ulysses shows how far we have got the balance wrong. Does anyone seriously believe that Joyce was motivated, even in the slightest, by the prospect of enriching a grandchild who hadn’t even been born at the time.”

Another good reason to live in Britain  

BBC: “A survey of people’s religious beliefs in 10 countries suggests the UK is among the most secular nations in the world.”

A third of people in Britain don’t believe in god or a higher power, compared to only 9% in the US. What’s particularly gratifying to me about this result is that it is despite widespread penetration of church schools, particularly at the primary level in England.

I know this is a subject where I am highly intolerant, but so it is.

…and why I still don’t have a UK passport after 25 years 

The new citizenship ceremony, which I think is broadly a good idea, includes an oath of allegiance to the queen, which I think is a thoroughly terrible idea. At a very deep level I’m a lower-case r republican.

Davos Newbies Home

Busy week must-reads 

Jay Rosen: “Ten years later, the press still officially clings to: ‘We’re professionals who have no partisan role,’ but the costs of denial and of reasoning in a vacuum have built up over the years. There are stresses and fractures that can no longer be ignored.”

Daily Kos: “Being the eternal optimist, I assume our nominee will be the face of the Democratic Party for the next eight years. Given I want to retake both the House and the Senate by 2006, the question thus becomes, ‘Who do I want representing the party through 2012?’ Who will give us the best chance to take back Congress from the GOP?”

Davos Newbies Home

Busy week  

I’m facing a very busy week of work, so I don’t expect to do much posting on Davos Newbies.

According to a senior source… 

Roy Greenslade, who is usually a tiresome bore in The Guardian media section, has a helpful guide to unnamed sources today.

  A senior source – someone who really knows what’s happening
  A source – someone who wishes he knew what was happening
  An insider – someone who hopes to know enough, one day, to be a source
  A friend – the celebrity’s PR
  A close friend – the celebrity
  A senior backbencher – an MP you may have heard of
  A backbencher – an MP no one has ever heard of
  A Downing Street aide – someone who once met the prime minister
  A senior government adviser – the policeman outside No 10
  A very senior source – Peter Mandelson

Useful chart  

Brad DeLong provides a very useful chart to the swing states in the US presidential election.

2000 Presidential Election: Democratic Plus Green Vote Share Relative to National Average

  District of Columbia 39.3%
  Rhode Island 16.0%
  Massachusetts 15.2%
  New York 12.7%
  Hawaii 10.6%
  Connecticut 9.2%
  Maryland 8.1%
  New Jersey 8.0%
  Vermont 6.5%
  Delaware 6.4%
  California 6.2%
  Illinois 5.7%
  Maine 3.7%
  Washington 3.2%
  Michigan 2.2%
  Minnesota 2.0%
  Pennsylvania 1.6%
  Oregon 1.0%
  New Mexico 0.3%
  Wisconsin 0.3%
  National Totals 0.0%
  New Hampshire -0.3%
  Iowa -0.3%
  Florida -0.6%
  Ohio -2.2%
  Missouri -2.4%
  Nevada -2.4%
  Tennessee -2.9%
  Arizona -3.4%
  Colorado -3.5%
  Arkansas -3.8%
  West Virginia -3.9%
  Virginia -4.5%
  Louisiana -5.4%
  Georgia -7.9%
  North Carolina -8.0%
  Kentucky -8.3%
  Alabama -8.4%
  South Carolina -8.7%
  Indiana -9.3%
  Mississippi -9.6%
  Kansas -10.5%
  Texas -11.0%
  Montana -11.8%
  Oklahoma -12.7%
  Alaska -13.2%
  South Dakota -13.5%
  Nebraska -14.3%
  North Dakota -14.8%
  Utah -20.0%
  Idaho -21.0%
  Wyoming -22.8%

Davos Newbies Home

What century are we in?  

BBC: “Farmers struggling to make a living in Yorkshire are being urged to head for the American Mid West. A team from South Dakota is in the region on the latest stop in a campaign to persuade British farmers to change continents.”

Ageing China  

Bonobo Land discusses Nicholas Eberstadt’s analysis of worldwide ageing.

“Between 2000 and 2025 China’s median age is set to rise very substantially: from about 30 to around 39. According to [United Nations Population Division] projections for 2025, in fact, China’s median age will be higher than America’s. The impending tempo of population aging in China is very nearly as rapid as anything history has yet seen. It will be far faster than what was recorded in the more developed regions over the past three decades and is exceeded only by Japan. There is a crucial difference, however, between Japan’s recent past and China’s prospective future. To put the matter bluntly, Japan became rich before it became old; China will do things the other way around.”

Davos Newbies Home

Essential freedoms 

The New York Times Digital Editor-in-Chief Len Apgar reckons personal blogs by the paper’s journalists are out of the question.

Prints the Chaff ponders the oddity of one of the great defenders of press freedom saying, in effect, “You can write anything you want so long as you OK it with us first.”

Koufax awards 

Whiskey Bar understandably cleaned up in the Koufax awards for left-wing blogs.

Why I need weblogs 

A Financial Times news story had convinced me that Japan’s economy was looking up. Helpfully, Edward Hugh explains why it isn’t so.

“Since deflation actually accelerated (or so the contested GDP deflator purports to show), then prices actually dropped more quickly than before, and when you make allowance for all this you get an apparent acceleration in GDP – a difference between a quarterly 0.7%, which when corrected for deflation produces the 1.7% which when multiplied by four gives the 7% rate.”

Davos Newbies Home

A different time 

Read Bob Greene’s commentary on the Wisconsin primary 44 years ago. “Kennedy and Humphrey – head-to-head in pursuit of their party’s nomination – moved through Wisconsin in splendid isolation, looking for individual votes in near silence.”

Surely democracy is better served by the intensive coverage we now have of the candidates. But that relentless tracking of the political process must partially explain the steady decline in voting participation in the US and many other advanced democracies.

I’ll wager, however, that the 2004 presidential election in the US will see a partial reversal of the trend. People on both sides are charged up: as The Decembrist recently observed, “How many people do you know who aren’t sure whether they will vote for George W. Bush’s reelection or not?”

Switched on 

Loïc Le Meur has some excellent reflections on how conferences need to evolve to become valuable and interactive.


I would love to have a regular column in a daily newspaper. It would worry me, however, that there would be days when I had nothing sensible to say.

Martin Kettle seems not to harbour such doubts. He fills a half page of The Guardian with speculative drivel today, with the rousing conclusion:

“If Bush is defeated in November, does that actually make Blair stronger or weaker? Would a Kerry victory give fresh credibility to Blair the Labour prime minister or toll the knell for Blair the Bush ally? Inside Downing Street there is much disagreement about all this. It is a mark of the political cancer caused by the Iraq war that it cannot be assumed that Blair wants Kerry to win. It is the ultimate pessimism that Blair may even prefer to see Bush re-elected.”

Davos Newbies Home

Shifting politics 

I’m sticking to my long-held belief that Labour will comfortably win a third term next year with Tony Blair as prime minister. But there’s not doubt that the political climate has changed markedly. The lead story so far today has been shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin’s announcement of a putative Conservative government’s spending policies.

I think Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander had all the best points when he and Letwin were interviewed this morning on the Today Programme. But what’s changed is that Letwin was given respect (not least through leading the news bulletins with his plans) and sounded calm and reasonable.

Alexander tried to stick the knife in with the accurate jibe that Letwin was the man who declared he would beg in the streets rather than send his children to the local state school. That plays well with me, but I think most listeners would just regard it as the kind of yah-boo politics that Letwin was trying to decry.

I don’t understand why Letwin’s speech is a lead story. After all, he has no power whatsoever, and his chances of becoming chancellor remain slight even with the most optimistic reading of the polls. Clearly, however, the editors at BBC News reckon Conservative policy announcements are once more real news, after seven years in the wilderness. And that’s an important shift.

Blogging ethics 

Felix Salmon has a long, well-considered post on the ethics of blogging. He concludes:

“If individual bloggers, especially the higher-profile ones, made it clear what kind of things they will and will not do, at least some kind of consensus might start to emerge.

“If that happened, would the blogosphere lose its appealing, free-wheeling, anarchic flavour? I very much doubt it. Would anybody still be free to publish anything they wanted? Absolutely. Would blogs still deliver the kind of content which is hard, if not impossible, to get from any other media outlet? I should bloody well hope so. I would simply like to think that, in aggregate, blogs might get taken increasingly seriously by the kind of people who naturally discount anything which isn’t published on paper.

“But there could be a downside, as well. If bloggers started censoring themselves in an attempt to stay on the right side of the ethical line, their blogs might become duller. If they started double-checking things before publishing them, they could lose both speed and volume of posting. If they refused certain forms of advertising, they could both lose money and hinder the growth of a whole new form of media.”


How can you not like Pholph’s Scrabble Generator?

My Scrabble© Score is: 21.
What is your score? Get it here.

(Via Prints the Chaff, which scores 30.)

Davos Newbies Home

Edwards’ contribution 

An interesting perspective on the Democratic race from The Decembrist: “It’s time to argue that Senator John Edwards’… contribution to the party and to modern liberalism may be more important, more daring, and more lasting [than Dean]. His contribution was in challenging the lazy assumption of ‘universalism’ that has dominated the language and program of liberals and Democrats.”

You’ve got to be kidding 

From today’s Financial Times: “France Telecom stunned the management consulting industry on Thursday when it emerged that in 2002 the French operator spent an estimated €1.5bn ($1.9bn) on consultancy out of total revenues of €46bn.”

I don’t think it’s the management consulting industry that should be stunned, it’s the rest of us. Fortunately, new CEO Thierry Breton has cut €444 million from the company’s spending on consulltants, lawyers and bankers. If we could find out what companies are spending on consultants, I suspect it would provide a reliable inverse relationship to the quality of the firm.

Davos Newbies Home

India’s brain reserves  

Edward Hugh provides some extraordinary data on India’s brain reserves, via a Morgan Stanley report:

  As per NASSCOM, the number of students being admitted for engineering studies in India will increase to 600,000 by 2004 compared with 455,000 in 2000.
  Every year, India adds about 2.3 million English-speaking graduates (15 years education). This compares with around 1.2 million graduates every year in US.
  India’s population in the 15-64 age group will rise to 758 million and in the 25-59 age group to 501 million. The bulge will be in the age category of 15-24 years. This bracket will have 223 million people by 2010, up from the current 186 million.

You do the math 

I’ve been having an email exchange with the wonderful British Politics on electoral maths in the US presidential race. I can highly recommend Dave Leip’s Atlas of US Presidential Elections for any amateur psephologists.