Monthly Archives: December 2005

What are the worthwhile news sources?

Brad DeLong has rightly demanding standards:

I receive mammoth value added from the Financial Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg. I receive substantial value added from Knight-Ridder, from the (increasingly uneven) Economist, from the inside-baseball-political news (but not the substantive policy analysis) of the National Journal, and from the news (but definitely not the editorial) pages of the Wall Street Journal.

But value added from the New York Times? A few reporters are good. Others are liars–the kind of people who would agree to claim that a senior administration official is an ex-Capitol Hill staffer. Most don’t know enough about substance to write the stories they are tasked with writing.

High-value innovation defined: SpongeBob SquarePants

Today’s Financial Times reports (for subscribers only) that SpongeBob SquarePants will soon launch in Japan and China. No surprise there, but the scale of SpongeBob’s success certainly struck me: “The character has generated $4bn so far in retail sales alone, and its consumer products revenues are growing at about 25 per cent a year in the 22 international markets in which the line has launched.”

Having launched in 1999, SpongeBob is a year younger than Google. $4 billion and 22 markets is an amazing record in that time.

In the circles I run around in, there’s a lot of head-scratching these days on how the US and other advanced economies will remain innovative and competitive with the rise of India and China. I remain pretty bullish about the prospects for the economy as a whole (employment and wealth distribution may be another issue), because I think it will take a very long time for developing countries to replicate – to say nothing of replace – the innovation ecology that produces a SpongeBob or a Google.

You can read an extreme statement of my kind of optimism in Tom Peters. Take away his exclamation points, and I agree with much of what he writes. The contrast is the doom-mongering from Tom Friedman.

That said, the US certainly seems to take a cavalier attitude to its great, innovation-producing strength. Living in Berkeley, I’m acutely aware of the pressures on the amazing government-funded educational and research institutions like the University of California. Add into the mix the Bush administration’s disdain for science and there’s the potential for the US to fall a long way eventually. Fortunately, unlike the development of a Google or a SpongeBob, these kinds of shift take a very long time to work through the system. There’s still time to recover from the mistakes being made today.

Great issue

Its Web manifestation is lousy, but there’s rarely a week when I’m not very pleased that I’m a subscriber to The New Yorker. But the current issue is, for someone of my interests, an absolute blockbuster.

Lots of political bloggers have commented on Sy Hersh’s gloomy view on the transition from a ground war to an air war for US forces in Iraq. An obvious must read. And the kind of academic blogs that I follow are rightly complimentary about Louis Menand’s review of Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment. Tetlock’s research seems to confirm what I’ve always believed: foxes are better forecasters than hedgehogs. What I hadn’t heard about until the issue arrived at home yesterday was an account of the Harrisburg “intelligent design” trial, which I lapped up.

And more personally, no one had mentioned the profile of type designer Matthew Carter. Carter is the designer of, among many, many other fonts, Vincent, which we use as the text face in my new publication. I think it’s a wonderful face.

The need for historians

Dave Winer: “We need to determine what authority means in the age of Internet scholarship. And we need to take a step back and ask if we really want the participants in history to write and rewrite the history. Isn’t there a place in this century for historians, non-participants who observe and report on the events?”

A few years ago, observers looked at the Internet and wondered how we could deal with the quantity of information we now had easily available. The more interesting question is now evident: how do we determine quality?

It's sometimes hard being an italophile

A Fistful of Euros: “Last week the Italian government finally decided to delay the launch of its private pension reform by two years, by taking the decision to implement the reform in 2008 rather the originally planned 2006. As many cynics might note, this is conveniently after the forthcoming general election next spring. The reform also was intended to raise the retirement rate for government employees from 57 to 60. This gives a measure of the extent of the problem. The UK and Germany are both currently discussing raising retirement ages to at least 67.”

On a completely incidental note spurred by the discussion of pensions, one aspect of Britain that I still find odd to the point of absurdity is the honours system. In my Davos days I had many interesting discussions with Adair Turner. He led the recent pensions report in the UK, but I see he’s now styled Lord Turner. Now few people deserve recognition more, and I’m sure his counsel is needed in the House of Lords, but aren’t we in the twenty-first century?

Where are the correcting mechanisms?

The other day I wrote about Tom Friedman’s ridiculous comment that no one had invented podcasting. I also wrote a letter to the editor of the FT pointing out the false statement.

I’m not surprised that my letter hasn’t run. The FT has extraordinarily little space for letters. Of course, they could be unconstrained for space on, but the site is so pitifully run compared to the hard copy newspaper that I suspect it never occurred to anyone at the paper they they could do something different with the website.

What’s less understandable is the uncorrected article. The paper has had plenty of time to append a note to the interview with Friedman correcting his nonsense. As commenters on my blog post have pointed out, it’s even worse. Friedman talks about podcasting, claiming his “podcast” was number one on iTunes. But there is no Friedman podcast. It’s an audiobook, which is a very different thing.

A Google search for Thomas Airmiles Friedman will find a lot of this sort of thing. I’m pretty sure the term originated with Daniel Davies of d-squared digest and Crooked Timber.