Monthly Archives: September 2004

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Must read on Iraq 

Everyone else is pointing to it, and they’re right. Read Josh Marshall on Iraq.

We’re lucky to be living in the Federer era 

I’m completely potty about tennis (playing even more than watching). So I can’t let Roger Federer’s demolition of Lleyton Hewitt in the US Open final pass without mention.

Federer is setting completely new standards in the sport. He can do things, consistently, that no one else has yet dreamed of. His two bagels of Hewitt, the third-ranked player in the world, were remarkable, but I think the 7-6 second set gives even greater pause for thought: Federer served under 50%, made a bunch of unforced errors and still won the set.

“Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, but he’ll remember with advantages what feats he did that day.”

We’re not in Kansas anymore 

I haven’t yet gotten around to Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas. But I’m baffled by the UK publisher’s decision to retitle the book What’s the Matter with America. Surely that’s not the same idea at all. And it’s nowhere near as good a title.

Out the door 

I had a major piece of work that I need to get out the door today, so I’m posting late and sparsely. One small thing I learned today is how to stop Word’s annoying habit of shifting unexpectedly into overtype mode. That’s a real sense of accomplishment.

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Can’t wait for the first issue 

The Economists’ Voice sounds like it will be a very good thing indeed: “The aim will be to provide an economist’s argument and point of view on some salient and interesting issue: a survey of something interesting happening in the economy, or a call for some change in policy or institutions–which would consist of a review of what the principal important factors are, what the objective function is, what the constraints are, why the objective function is maximized at the particular set of policies or institutional arrangements that the author prefers.”

One small thing: I’m pretty sure Bepress stands for Berkeley Electronic Press, not Berkeley Economics Press.

Surely not? 

The think tank Demos has a reputation for defying conventional wisdom. But this may be going too far.

Tom gets the whip 

Pioneering politician blogger Tom Watson became an assistant government whip in yesterday’s government reshuffle. I hope that doesn’t explain why he’s been silent for a few days. By tradition, whips work in the shadows, so we’ll see how Tom continues his blogging.

Update: The Guardian parodies what Tom’s weblog might begin to look like. Tom, on the other hand, reckons things will be okay.

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Campaign problems 

Micah Sifry has a compelling analysis of the problems of the Kerry campaign (via Doc Searls).

  But whichever way you slice it, the story is the same. Democratic elites, led by John “Aspen-Nantucket” Kerry and Bob “I Win Either Way” Shrum, are running a terrible campaign.
  The latest, largest piece of evidence for that charge? Their failure to respond to W’s repeated claims that Kerry’s plans to raise taxes on the rich will just backfire on the middle-class, since “the rich hire lawyers and accountants and you get stuck with the bill.” “Every time they say tax the rich, the rich dodge and you pay,” Bush tells working and middle class crowds, to appreciative roars.
  The truth, which is that under Bush IRS audits of rich taxpayers ($100,000+) have dropped to a lower rate than the poor (<$25,000), that businesses are 33% less likely to be audited, audits of the largest coporations dropped as well, that companies who seek government contracts while reincorporating overseas to escape US taxes face no penalty from the Administration, and that nothing has been done to deter the abuse of offshore tax havens (heck, most of the President’s top contributors are financial companies and accounting firms that sell such dodges to wealthy individuals and corporations), hasn’t even gotten out of bed and put its boots on…Meanwhile, another big Bush lie travels around the world.

There’s still plenty of time (I keep telling myself).

Bush revelations 

The Poor Man is deservedly being linked to everywhere for his catalogue of Bush revelations that won’t be in the forthcoming Kitty Kelley book. Essential reading.

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How do you say Happy Meal in Azeri? 

The 34 Languages of McDonald’s is one of the most fun and informative Internet quizzes I’ve come across. A must for anyone interested in language.

Often seen school money told fact night 

Via the excellent Design Observer, I’ve come across Word Count, which presents the 86,800 most frequently used words in English ranked by commonality. Lance is 16,102nd.

There’s an odd sort of poetry in the list. Consider this run, from rank 224: “Often seen school money told fact night.”

The data comes from the British National Corpus, which on first glance under-represents current usage. Web only ranks 10,182nd, between abbot and gastrin.

Interview with Putin 

The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele was part of a three-hour discussion with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Some of the most sensational quotes were reported yesterday, but the more measured article today is important reading for anyone interested in understanding Putin in the aftermath of Beslan.

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Last chance to see 

I was struck by Dave Pollard’s list of the most beautiful places on Earth, based on a PBS documentary. One of the places is Kakadu National Park in North Australia.

Unfortunately, Kakadu may not be with us much longer. In Australia the week before last, I heard Tim Flannery give a talk on the likely impact of global warming on Australia. An increase of 1-2 degrees Centigrade in the surface temperature of the Earth — at the very low end of estimates — would result in a loss of 50% of the Kakadu wetlands. An increase of up to 3 degrees would result in complete loss of Kakadu (as well as complete loss of tropical reefs, widespread extinctions and a loss of half of Australia’s wet tropics area).

Many Australians are acutely aware that their country stands to be the single most affected of the advanced economies by global warming. Flannery had an eloquent summation of the problem: “The metabolism of the global economy in on a collision course with the metabolism of the planet Earth.”

Passionate intensity 

I didn’t pick up Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson’s classic history of the civil war era, for any contemporary relevance. It was just one of those books I’ve long thought I should read.

But having recently finished the chapters on the 1860 election and the secessions that followed, there are eerie echoes of today’s political climate in the US.

No, I don’t think the US is heading for civil war. But the passions that wrought the fatal divisions in the mid-nineteenth century seem familiar. Particularly on the right today, there seems a conviction and belief that broaches no arguments (see last week’s convention passim).

In 1860, much of the south had convinced themselves that they could not live under a Lincoln presidency. Recall the anti-Clinton venom of the ’90s and hear the bile about Kerry today. There is a worryingly large constituency that is unable to accept a democratic choice that isn’t their choice.

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Let’s hope the best find their convictions in time.

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Electoral votes 

When we were in California, my sister encouraged a daily morning look at the Electoral Vote Predictor. The picture in mid-August was serene: Kerry had a consistent, comfortable lead as chronicled on this excellent site. This morning, however, was not so pretty. A place to watch.

Summer reading 

I’m back, and before I get to describing some of the highlights of a wonderful, restful summer break, I want to recommend two books I read.

First, The Wisdom of Crowds. I like James Surowiecki’s columns in The New Yorker, but at first I thought this book might have been better as a column. Too often, a good idea can be stretched into book length when it isn’t merited. But The Wisdom of Crowds just got better and better.

The book examines the many instances where, as the subtitle has it, “the many are smarter than the few”. It also looks at the circumstances when this doesn’t apply, and the way to design organisations to take advantage of collective wisdom. It certainly had me questioning my faith in expert opinion. A book that transforms the way you look at many things.

On a very different note, Tom Holland’s Rubicon, about the fall of the Roman Republic, is both gripping narrative history and a lesson for our own times (appropriately, Chris Lydon has some reflections on the current American empire).

Finally, a friend who is a very good and tough judge of these things says The Company of Strangers is a must read. That’s next up for me, once I finish Battle Cry of Freedom (which I should have read years ago, I know, but it’s been worth the wait).