Ben A.
Ben H.
Down On The Farm

I've just gotten back to Buenos Aires from my little farm tour. I serve on the board of an ag company down here in which our fund has made a substantial investment. I spent the day at one of our larger ranches, a spread of over 75,000 acres in the province of Corrientes. For once, I remembered to bring along the digital camera...

Remind me not to complain about LaGuardia anymore. To get out to this farm, we had to take a private plane and land it on a grass strip on the property. The bright side: when it's time to go, you don't need to take off your shoes to get through security. I came home early, which showed me why a grass-landing is considered a sensible option. It was a 3.5hr drive to the nearest commercial airport.

Meeting of Corrientes' newest 12-step program, Adult Children of the Corn.

Soybeans, aka Green Gold, to my mind a very ugly crop. Soya: Looks Like A Weed, Eats Like A Meal!

A major project on this farm has been to build a reservoir to allow rice cultivation. The reservoir is several times the size of Central Park.

Wild burros: about 400 of these creatures, otherwise known as jackasses, live on the farm. 400 Argentine jackasses? Hey, it's the National Assembly!

[Ben H.: 10/11/04 22:25]

Funny, funny guy [Ben A.: 10/11/04 21:15]
Dukakis in a tank, etc.

A colleague went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens this weekend, where they have an exhibit of presidential TV ads. Turns out it's online too. Excellent surfing. [Doug: 10/11/04 11:21]
Argentina: No Longer a Punchline!

That's my entrant for the "slogans that would be better than the one Argentina now employs" pagent initiated by Ben H. I encourage readers to send their suggestions to him or me. 1st prize is a dinner in the Argentinian knock-off gaucho-steakhouse off your choice!

The topic reminds me of the old Borscht belt joke in which Begin (or hey, substatute Sharon), seeking to redress Israel's image problem, retains a high priced Madison Avenue firm. Their advic: immediately change the country's name to "Irving"

1-800-LAWYERB; The B is for Bargain!

Working in a biotech has its moments, but when college friends are clerking for judges, trying John Walker Lindh, or aiding humanity in some Gates foundationy way, I fear I devote my energies to an essentially base endeavor. A friend (the fellow who found "Eat me" in team) cheered me up by reporting the reverence in which biotech is held by his Hollywood agent friends. Compared to a profession that amounts to structured sychophancy, we come off as a crew of Albert Schweitzers.

Like the old shehtl yarn says, it could always be worse. I encourage anyone who feels bad about their social contribution to contemplate this recent innovation in the profession of law. Question: do you get a smoking monkey with each suit?


Never read him. Beyond the reconaissance acquired indirectly through Bernie, my only other indirect report comes from a genuine old school scholar who thought Derrida a serious philsopher. [Ben A.: 10/10/04 22:08]

Why the big deal over his death. I mean isn't the author inherently dead? He was just an irrelevant bit of hors-texte meat. Of Grammatology lives on! (In all seriousness, I would prefer the poor guy get to live a few more years and his works be forgotten.)

Argentina, Un Pais En Serio

You know your country has come to a bad pass when the government runs advertisements on local TV proclaiming itself "A Serious Country." If you have to use marketing techniques to convince your own citizens of your country's seriousness, your country probably isn't very serious. It may well be cheap, though. As I write, I am struggling to digest what was a truly delicious 400 gram tenderloin tip. It set me back all of $7.50.
[Ben H.: 10/10/04 21:35]
And turning to the topic of non-fraudulent academics, I'm glad Goldfarb's notes are being published -- I've kept dragging them around with me for a decade. I heard a rumor from somebody that he got tenured under controversial circumstances. I imagine so; a genuinely good teacher like that -- engaging, rigorous, non-pedantic -- could never get a permanent Harvard post without good luck and a fight. [Doug: 10/10/04 20:35]
Dao got back from another week in France today. Apparently the journalists at Le Monde were disappointed with the Nobel literature prize choice, because they couldn't use this long piece they'd prepared for their favorite candidate, Jacques Derrida. Now, of course, it looks like they can use it anyway, since Jacques just got something else that he's arguably deserved for a long time. [Doug: 10/10/04 20:24]
Underfueled Rocket?

Phil Garner may be destroying the Astros season by starting Clemens in game 4. This is a classic panic move. The Astros are up 2-1, and while no greater Celmens booster exists than your humble author, the facts don't lie. Despite his legendary conditioning and strength, Clemens is 6-4 lifetime with a 4.74 ERA when pitching on three days. [Ben A.: 10/10/04 11:41]

My heart and my head give contradictory advice, so I'll have to remain silent! [Ben H.: 10/10/04 10:06]
Bring It On!

Any ALCS predictions, Ben? [Ben A.: 10/9/04 21:08]

Slate runs an interview with former CIA operator E. Howard Hunt. Here's a salty excerpt:

Slate: Did you ever think there was a way to get rid of Castro, short of a military coup?

Hunt: No. When Castro went into Cuba and took over, this was the moment—with all the chaos and disorganization—that our forces could have gone in and unseated him. But we always confronted this dreadful organization called the Department of State. Who needs it?!
[Ben A.: 10/8/04 11:02]
Dennett and Me

As you suggest, Doug, I am not a Dennett fan. Your characterization of his school of philosophy as wannabe engineers (or computer scientists, or neurologists) seems to me correct. In addition to thinking that Dennett-style philosophy of mind is false, I think it’s uninteresting. We’re all a big neural net, epistemology is naturalized, blah blah blah. Maybe it’s interesting if you think you need to fight the power of unsophisticated rationalism. This has the feel of college atheists debunking “fundamentalists” they have never met or want to meet -- a breathless smashing of idols in fact worshipped by no one. If you think the complexity of the physical world exhausts the complexity of the human mind, quit the professor job and join a biotech company! [see how important it is to be able to distinguish iff from if*]

Let me leap to my own defense on one point, however. My focus on “one possible world” occurred in the context of the claim that “T” – let me loosely/incorrectly define as the reality of a possible world structure which contains an exhaustive catalogue of all possible worlds** -- prohibited meaningful human freedom. I don’t think that’s so. But the reason why I don’t think that’s so is because a) human freedom could be imperiled even denying T, and b) depending on the definition of “possible” and “exhaustive,” a catalogue like T could be irrelevant to our freedom. That’s not to say I don’t find freedom really, really problematic. I just don’t believe the connection between that problem and the structure of “T” to be as deep and essential as you do.

* Good news. Warren Goldfarb’s great logic notes are being made into a textbook. I understand his Phil 144 notes will soon follow.
**This is the type of bowdlerization that a web post composed at work is going to have. If you want the real dope, read Doug’s essay!

Maya Prabhu and Priorities

You know, whatever. It's hard for me to care about this stuff with the Sox up 2-0.

Speaking of illustrious alumni, does anyone know what happened to Chaz “I stole money from kids with cancer” Lee?

[Ben A.: 10/8/04 09:47]
Maya Prahbhu??

Why should I rant about it? As long as the commission doesn't hold any votes, her presence will not prove troublesome. [Ben H.: 10/8/04 06:14]

After the event described below, David's friends diffused off into various groups. I ended up going out to dinner with two people I didn't know, but one of whom I'd heard a lot about. And I learned something that, if I mentioned it casually, would set Ben H off on a rant the likes of which we haven't seen here in weeks. I'm not sure how to divulge it: on the one hand Ben's rants are tremendously fun, but on the other hand at least half of this one's venom would be directed at one of the people I just had dinner with, and she seemed so perfectly nice that I would feel guilty about it. Maybe I should frame it as an exercise for Ben: "Try to process this information calmly, and to make the most balanced assessment possible of it." But I'll leave it up to you. Maya Prabhu is on the Volcker "Oil-for-Food" Commission. [Doug: 10/8/04 00:35]
They Took Credit For America

Tonight I went to a book-launching panel-discussion event for They Made America, by my friend David and Sir Harold Evans, Tina Brown's husband. It was less boring than it might have been and Ted Turner is mainly to thank for that. (Martin Scorcese and Oscar de la Renta and a pair of CEO types were less amusing.) My quick flip through the book's galley proofs a few weeks ago bolstered my a priori assumption that it will be great. Hell, David spent four years on it -- I'm sure it's fabulous. Tonight's event left a less-than-totally-good taste in my mouth, though. As Sir Evans the glib egomaniac emcees the evening and basks in everyone's adulation, and as "his" book's main author gets a polite mention, you have to wonder how much credit the "Innovators" lauded in the book actually deserve. How many of them worked their ways into positions of power so that they could delegate the bulk of their "crowning achievements"? Not that I think this co-author arrangement is an injustice of teeth-gnashing proportions or anything. Evans surely did some hard work to get the Queen's sword-tap, and David has his entree into the literary world. It just makes me aware of how huge the gap is between authors and Authors. I think I forget, when I scold people like Lawrence Tribe for plagiarism etc., that they hardly write a word they "write". [Doug: 10/8/04 00:18]

I got home and WNYC was playing a good recording of Satie's "Socrate". Props to DJ David Garland. The piece does exactly what it sets out to do: convey calmness and purity and lucidity, without being dull. I can't think of any other music to compare it to, even other Satie pieces. If you don't know it, I highly recommend checking it out, even if Satie's ostentatious eccentricity annoys you -- it's absent here. [Doug: 10/7/04 23:45]
Just What You Wanted to Read ... More Musings On Dennett!

I lied about my Dennett-related monologue: I have more to add to it. Probably I have been too snide towards him. As amends, let me relate something that I learned from his book, or at least something that crystallized for me while I read it. The most famous cleavages in philosophical casts of mind are determinist-vs.-indeterminist, free-will-vs.-unfree-will, dualist-vs.-monist. What became vivid to me as I read "Freedom Evolves" is another cleavage just as important as these -- between people who focus their attention inside individual possible worlds, and people who focus more broadly on the set of all possible worlds. Dennett, as I said earlier, is of the first type. He is fascinated by the mechanics of this particular world, or maybe of a handful of privileged worlds the complexity of whose patterns contrasts pleasingly with the simplicity of their laws. He shows no more concern for other possible worlds than a millionaire, doting on a few socialites at a garden party, shows for destitute kids on the other side of town. Nor does he ask why just these worlds were admitted into the party of reality while others were left out in the cold. Now what's remarkable is that Ben A, who I trust is as deeply repelled as I am by Dennett's views, shares his focus on individual worlds. Ben A thinks that "freedom" is an attribute that can apply to a particular action in a particular world, so that there is nothing particularly problematic about freedom. Dennett finds it equally obvious that there can be no such brute quality of freedom, that "freedom" must have referred all along to a certain rakish angle of patterns in a four-dimensional grid, again leaving us no deep problem. There is no deep problem, unless one is inclined to look outside a particular world to all the other possible worlds and ask why just one is, or just a few are, real. That, to my mind, is where philosophy begins. (As William James once pointed out, philosophers habitually believe not that their opponents hold an incorrect philosophy, but that they're not doing philosophy at all.) I don't think I would have understood this as deeply as I do had I not bought and read Dennett's book. [Doug: 10/7/04 23:21]
Best Headline Ever?

Cheney Says Report Finding No Illicit Arms in Iraq Justifies War

Gerry, here at the office, points out that we've always been at war with Eurasia, so maybe this isn't so surprising. [Doug: 10/7/04 13:08]
The Wiener Group??

The august get auguster. Already boasting "precursors such as Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, Karl Kraus, Odon von Horvath, Elias Canetti, Thomas Bernhard and the Wiener Group" (according to the Academy's citation), Elfriede Jelinek joins the ranks of Theodor Mommsen, Giosue Carducci, Wladyslaw Reymont, Gabriela Mistral, and Ivo Andric. [Doug: 10/7/04 08:59]
Final entry in my monologue about Dennett and his reductionist ilk. I may have mentioned this before; can't remember. Back when I was in grad school and a lot meaner, I invented what I still take to be the ultimate response to their claims.

    Dennett: I just don't see any compelling reason to think that my mind must be something beyond a Turing machine.

    Doug: Neither do I.

This was about the time I quit grad school. [Doug: 10/6/04 22:31]

Carl V. says it's captious of me to point out, but I think the following sentence from Dennett's book shows perfectly his inability to grasp the real issues of possibility, necessity, and freedom. "To say that determinism is true is to say that our actual world is in a subset of worlds that have the following interesting property: There are no two worlds that start out exactly the same (if they start the same, they stay the same forever -- they are not different worlds after all), and if any two worlds share any state description exactly, they share all subsequent state descriptions." By this definition every possible world is deterministic, by virtue of its membership in the set that contains just it and nothing else. This error would be obvious to him if he spent any time thinking about why natural laws hold or fail to hold. But he's in a hurry to rush past these issues and get to the fun stuff: showing how simple laws give rise to his favorite video games.

I suppose what Dennett means is not "a subset of worlds having the property ... " but "the subset of physically (rather than logically) possible worlds, which has the property ... ". Referring to that set by name here, however, would raise the question of why certain worlds are physically impossible despite being logically possible, and again, that's a direction he doesn't want to go in. [Doug: 10/6/04 16:56]
Since I'm quitting my job to join the Einstein track and pursue my free-will-friendly rethinking of the universe, I thought I'd take a quick look at what people are saying today about free will, and I read Dan Dennett's book "Freedom Evolves". Dennett is a "compatibilist", i.e. someone who takes free will to be compatible with determinism. A simpler way of putting his point is that "freedom is slavery", provided that your slavery system is neat enough, is written with clever-enough rules. I'm not much inclined to write a refutation of that. To borrow another philosopher's words, "What have I to do with refutations!" -- I am more eager, "as becomes a positive spirit, to replace the improbable with the more probable, possibly one error with another." If you want to write books holding that freedom is slavery, or for that matter that war is peace or suspicion trust, go right ahead. Let a thousand flowers bloom. But then let those flowers have the reproductive success they deserve. I can imagine no better fate for the thesis that "we're free thanks to natural selection" than to die thanks to natural selection. No extra work will be needed to ensure that Dennett's theory dies out; the neo-Bergsonian theory I'm now building -- that life is the creation of new possibilities rather than the successive instantiation of pre-existing possibilities -- will simply out-compete it.

To borrow another line from the same source, Dennett and his crew "possess one essential advantage over their books -- they are interesting!" It is not easy to puzzle out psychologically why they do what they do. My hypothesis is that, just as Tolstoy was a fox who thought he was hedgehog, they are engineers who think they are metaphysicians. They love tinkering with their systems -- Turing machines and neural nets. "Look how cool my machine is!" they shout, and they're right, their machines are cool. But then they get obsesssed with the idea that humans are no cooler than these machines. Why does this idea obsess them? In part it has to be the vanity of believing oneself to have understood everything in principle -- to have reduced the gap between oneself and omniscience to a matter of degree. But if you actually spend time with these people (and I've spent a fair amount of time with Paul Churchland, whose head is running the same Turing machine as Dennett's) you'll see that they're extremely warm and generous and humble. Churchland is one of the nicest guys I've ever met.

The best illustration in "Freedom Evolves" of this engineer/metaphysician gap is that, having built up a formal system of possible worlds that is exactly the same as the one at the start of my own book, Dennett never even asks what makes one of these worlds real. This is first question that any philosopher would ask. Instead, Dennett goes "inside" the worlds, oohing and aahing like a good engineer over those whose complex patterns can be defined with simple formulae.

Dennett is a good writer and does a good job of showing up the insufficiency of magical theories of free will, theories where "freedom" is an occult, unexplained quality enjoyed by certain actions. But it is just as wrong to claim that, in the absence of occult free will, free will must be a particularly neat form of slavery. Dennett's comrades form a sterile dyad with the "brute unexplained free will" crowd. It's rather like those "spinners" in the Game of Life that so amuses Dennett. The argument flips and flops with utter predictability between the two positions. It's the same phenomenon that, in a recent comment on John and Belle's site, I noted between Analytic and Continental philosophers: each camp is so disgusted by the pointless dreck of the other that it is spurred into writing more of its own pointless dreck. Oh well. Once my own theory catches on, at least some of these interminable arguments will terminate. [Doug: 10/6/04 11:42]

Andrei Ilarionov, one of Putin's closest economic advisors gave a talk at the IMF/WB meetings in DC. Here's a snippet of the Q&A:

Q: Would you like Russia to join the EU?
A: Are you asking whetehr we would like to commit suicide? [Ben H.: 10/6/04 09:13]
The Gnomes Of Zurich

The Gnomes are totally innocent in this case. It so happens (perhaps for the reason* you allude to, Doug, in your post) that Swiss International Airlines (the post-bankruptcy Swissair) has a fairly wide route network in Africa, serviced out of the Zurich hub. The African thugs did not follow us out to passport control, but rather headed toward the transit lounge.

*Zurich Airport is the only one I've seen with a deposit-taking bank branch inside the baggage claim area, so that you can open an account and make deposits before passing through customs. [Ben H.: 10/6/04 06:31]
Who is more odious, the thugs who rule these African hellholes or the dapper Zurich bankers who help them hide all the money they steal? Discuss. [Doug: 10/5/04 14:56]
London's Back on the Itinerary

Meetings in Zurich ended early, so I came to London for the afternoon. On the way over to Zurich, my flight left late due to the antics of an unusual group of passengers. A large group of what appeared to be African diplomats boarded with a royal-scale baggage train. The few top guys plopped down in business class and a bevy of retainers, wearing identical suits and lapel pins bearing the image of some African potentate's face, scrambled about stashing bags wherever they could. This included some highly inappropriate places; in the meantime, the wife of one of the big men, dripping in gold a jewels, screeched at the poor flight attendents that they must find a spot for a particular bag of hers, a bag clearly too large for the overhead bin. This group, though African, communicated entirely in Spanish (I'm guessing they were from Equatorial Guinea), and the woman seemed to be claiming that the overhead bins had "shrunk" since her last flight. The other flight attendents scurried about uncovering the uncoventional hiding places the retainers had arrogated to their masters' bag storage and trying to get the men to move the bags. Each man would disclaim responsibility for whatever bag the attendents pointed out until the attendent would start to remove it, at which point they all rushed to recover it. Once recovered, they'd try to stash it somewhere else. Finally, the head purser threatened to throw them all off the plane unless the bags were checked, and the petty panjandrums of Equatorial Guinea deigned to relent. Africa... no fuckin' hope... [Ben H.: 10/5/04 11:54]
It's too bad you didn't have this handy list of questions for Mr. Kissinger. [Doug: 10/4/04 12:28]
Heading Out Again

London's off the itinerary. Flying tonight instead to Zurich for a few hours of meetings (at the freakin' airport!) and then turning around tomorrow night! [Ben H.: 10/4/04 12:14]
Henry Kissinger is Yoda

He made some comments about, you know, foreign policy 'n shit, but I figured I should post you on the important stuff. [Ben H.: 10/4/04 10:44]
Monkeys do not have sex with elephants, and elephants do not have human heads.

... So writes a curator of the new Rubin Musueum of (Himalayan) Art alongside a drawing that would suggest otherwise. Dao and I wandered through the museum's free opening today. I'm not sure what to say about Himalayan art beyond that I like its bold RGB color palette. Maybe that quote from the curator indicates a general difficulty in saying much about this art. One interesting thing about the museum is its dedication to Himalayan rather than specifically Buddhist art. The person whom I and many others refer to as the Buddha is called, in the gallery of paintings depicting him, "Sakyamuni Buddha", so as not to elevate him above the rest of the pantheon(s). I think this museum will appeal more to fans of ethnic exotica and supporters of the (worthy) Free Tibet movement than to people interested in the philosophical and practical aspects of Buddhism. There is a gift store with lots of hand-woven things too. [Doug: 10/3/04 16:08]
Cox-2 Class Catastrophe

No one should be confident that the other coxibs will escape the toxicity disasters that sunk Vioxx, but I would say the odds are good. It's quite common for two compounds that hit the same target to have substantially different toxicity problems. Baycol kills people, Zocor doesn't, and Liptor is more effective than both of them.* As you know, one major hypothesis of my company's research is that we know much less about the properties of approved drugs than we imagine. I increasingly believe this hypothesis is correct. In the case of the COX-2s, Celebrex has never shown the level of cardio problems that Vioxx has.

I suspect that you have two forces propping up Pfizer's stock price. First is genuine scientific uncertainty: no one knows if Celebrex will show the same problem. The second is greed: if Celebrex does remain clear, they have basically double their sales selling into the void left Vioxx. Novartis, who have a pipeline COX-2, seem equally unaffected.

Late Note: Thinking further, there's at least one good reason to believe the cardiac toxicity seen with Vioxx doesn't stem from COX-2 inhibition. All normal NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, whatever) do inhibit COX-2, they just inhibit COX-1 as well (hence the GI problems). If inhibiting COX-2 increased the risk of MI, it seems likely that a more substantial level of risk would be seen with the non-selective NSAIDs.

*And thus to detractors of "me-too" drugs, I say: bite me.
[Ben A.: 10/1/04 18:19]
Cox-2 II

Ben A. (can i call you Drug Ben?*) noted the catastrophic impact of Vioxx's recall on Merck. The stock price bears it out. The market cap of the company dropped by just over 25% upon release of the bad news. But Vioxx is not the only Cox-2 drug out there. Celebrex brings in something like $3 billion per year for Pfizer. Yet Pfizer's stock price has not budged. Is there some reason why investors should be confident that Celebrex does not inflict the same sort of cardiac side effects as Vioxx does?

*A business associate of mine has recently become involved in rolling out a chain of pharmacies in Colombia. He jokes that when he comes through customs in the U.S. and the officer asks him what he does for a living, he ought to respond, "I sell drugs in Colombia." We've dubbed him Drug Doug. [Ben H.: 10/1/04 16:44]
The Coxib Story

Clincial research has established fairly definitevely that the cox2-selective agents do reduce ulcers vs. non-selective agents.* How much that is that advantage worth? Good question. Certainly prescriibing coxibs for one week of treatment after an ankle sprain seems like a puzzling use of medical resources.

And the toxicity advantage wasn't the only way Vioxx and Celebrex were sold. Rather, marketers exploited the fact that many NSAIDs work imperfectly to bill the coxibs as "more powerful" anti-inflammatories, which they aren't. At least that's my take. And I was to a degree an insider on these issues. Again it's just one more reason to have a health system that passes substantial costs back to end users. Many people would take high dose ibuprofen and a spare thousand bucks over Celebrex.

*Although if you are taking aspirin concurrently, much of that benefit may be lost. [Ben A.: 10/1/04 15:17]
The Return of Hermant K Shah

I saw my old buddy Hermant K. Shah (who, it should be noted, seems to have settled once and for all on billing himself as the principal of HKS Associates) on CNBC. I didn't hear the scream of Merck itself, but the wails of all the conservative investors who had long treated the company as the bluest of blue chips. Suckas.

Your points about the risks of drug development are all well-taken. However, I wonder if we should fault Merck a bit for this one. I'm no expert, but Vioxx doesn't seem like a tremendous improvement over NSAIDS. I mean, I guess there are some people who really can't tolerate long-term NSAID use but need some comparable pain-killer, but the speed with which this drug got taken up, and the volume of spam emails offering it that I have received, indicates that its use went way beyond this population. It might make sense to take daily a new kind of drug if it promises to cure some condition for which there is no acceptable alternative treatment, but for many of its users, Vioxx was not such a drug. [Ben H.: 10/1/04 12:42]

If you Manhattanites heard a scream echoing from the west yesterday, it emanated from the White Station New Jersey headquarters of Merck. Yesterday they pulled their arthritis and pain drug Vioxx from the market, after discovering evidence of long term cardiac toxicity. As detailed here, the toxicity was discovered in a 2600 patient study examining the drug for a new use, the prevention of colon polyps. In effect, while trying to find a new use for the drug, Merck uncovered evidence that destroyed the product.

It is hard to overstate what a fiasco Merck faces. The scale of major drugs often surprises those outside the industry, so let me put in the damage in perspective: Imagine if Starbucks needed to shut down 65% of their stores. That’s how much revenue ($2.5 billion) Merck lost. Of course, it’s much worse than that, as a pill of Vioxx produces much more profit than the average latte – the R+D expenses were sunk, and sales force costs (though enormous) were allocated across products. It’s hard to think of examples from other industries where losses so substantial can occur basically overnight. Merck can also expect a legal firestorm over the coming months.

The withdrawal is, of course, completely justified. No one wants a pain killer that increases risk of heart attack. A previous study of Vioxx suggested these problems might occur. Again, to give a sense of scale, that was an 8,000 patient study where 45 patients on Vioxx showed CV toxicity vs. 19 for the comparator (the big difference was in non-fatal heart attacks 18-to-4 in the Vioxx arm).

Still, it’s a devastating blow for Merck, which now will likely have to merge (or, at least, so says old friend Hemant K. Shah) It’s too bad this had to happen to a company reputed (to my mind, justifiable) as one of the more honest, scientifically-driven Big Pharmas. Remember that the next time you hear that pharmaceutical companies take no risk, and just pick off the low-hanging fruits provided by academic R+D. The COX2 target for Vioxx may have seemed like a lay-up at one time, but now Merck wishes they had never heard of it.
[Ben A.: 10/1/04 11:52]
The Travel Season Begins

Heading out down to D.C. for the IMF/WB meetings, followed by a trip to London for much of next week and Argentina the weekend and part of the week thereafter. As a result, I may not contribute much to the conversation here. I don't get the sense that this year will see large protests at the IMF/WB meetings. The anti-globo hordes may have already burned all the vacation days the Indy Record shop offers or exhausted mom and dad's frequent flyer mile balance on besieging the RNC. Pity, the event will not give off the same carnevalesque atmosphere without the guys is squirrel suits. One interesting item: tomorrow I get to have dinner with Henry Kissinger. He's the keynote speaker at one of the bank events and owing to a commitment I made to serve on a panel, I get to sit with The Big War Criminal. The panel was canceled, so i don't even have to sweat the public speaking! Will let you guys know how it goes.

Since the EM trading community consists of many emigrants from the emerging markets, raised on the conspiratorial view of American foreign policy prevalent in overseas media, many of the attendees expressed some surprise that the bank would invite Kissinger. The event goes ahead nonetheless. On the other hand, the bank had also invited Rashid Khalidi, the notorious anti-Israel, borderline anti-Semitic Columbia Mideast Studies professor, to give a lecture. I mobilized a few on my fellow finance hebes to make a stink and the bank scotched him. Zion power!! [Ben H.: 10/1/04 09:41]

An honorable draw, I thought, and a fairly high-toned discussion to boot. This doesn’t seem like a debate that will shift much ground, except perhaps helping Kerry seem presidential. Of course, I am an amazingly poor predictor of general reaction – I thought Gore had sewn the election up with his first debate shellacking of Bush. Silly me.
[Ben A.: 9/30/04 22:59]
Cambridge:Berkeley :: Soviet Russia: Albania

Now, in Harvard Square we have a group of Lyndon Larouche inspired a capella singers (no lie!), but nothing like this. Freaks!

[Ben A.: 9/30/04 17:43]
Best title ever [Ben A.: 9/29/04 14:34]
A Tribe Called Theft

[Doug: 9/29/04 13:36]
Montreal Expo(rt)s

Newspapers are reporting that Major League baseball has decided on Washington, D.C. as the destination for the woebegone franchise currently resident in baseball-unfriendly Montreal. Leaving aside for a moment the legal antics to which Baltimore Orioles owner and tort-king Peter Angelos will resort to block it, the new team still lacks a name. I very much doubt this new team will wind up like the Los Angeles Lakers, carrying around an old moniker than has nothing to do with their new city. If we can take the most recent expansion teams' names as indicative, the onomastic bar is low. So... any ideas? I'll kick it off:

- Bureaucrats
- Lobbyists
- Cookie-pushers
- Bullets (now that the basketball team has given up that highly appropriate name)
- Leeches
- Deputy Assistant Secretaries
- Shadow Senators
- Native Americans (to match them up, in a politically correct way, with the city's football team)
- Panders

[Ben H.: 9/29/04 07:41]
Until They're Continent, Send Them to The Subcontinent!

Let that be our facility's motto. [Doug: 9/28/04 21:30]
The Least Competitive Radio Contest in History?

I think Ben H listens to WQXR sometimes and can therefore verify this: they are offering some kind of dream getaway to Newark, New Jersey. (I couldn't find details on their web site.) [Doug: 9/28/04 21:21]
Offshoring Redux

Doug, I'm glad you've come around to my point of view. I have long advocated the offshoring of childrearing, probably the least capital-intensive, most universally mastered skill in the world. Why do it here in the U.S.? Some U.S.-resident Africans get the joke. [Ben H.: 9/28/04 12:57]

Not only is Lou Dobbs wrong to condemn offshoring, but my recent trip has shown me a new domain for it: child-rearing. Our friends in Paris have a newborn, and Dao's cousin in Savoie has three young kids, and they require an unbelievable amount of labor. I think it makes all kinds of sense to ship the kids off to a Bangalore "boarding school" with a label saying "return in 15 years", at which time they will be intelligent, helpful, and continent, although they will say things like "Hello mummy and daddy, please to be welcoming your son back to the family."

(I say this half-jokingly, but this actually happened to one of our best friends, and I gather that it was extremely traumatic. She's as white as I am but her parents fell in with some 1970's new age sikh guru, and left her in India for a long time. The only good thing that came of it is that she can talk to NYC cab drivers in Hindi.) [Doug: 9/28/04 12:18]
Die Wiederunbürgerlichkeit von Doug M

I'm filing this personal stock-taking entry from an Air France plane over the Atlantic. Stock-taking is one of the few activities for which long flights are suitable; although it's basically a solitary activity, I'm sticking this on the Bandarlog to reverse my depressing trend of making serious posts only about politics. So: the two most notable developments of my past nine months have been finishing a draft of my book, and realizing that I can't devote more than 50% of my time to business activity. You two guys are familiar with the book -- Ben A was extremely helpful with an earlier partial draft, and I've given Ben H a copy of this one (Ben A, I'll mail one to you when I'm back on the ground). For readers who haven't heard me talk about it, it's a philosophy book*. I have been bothered for a long time by the incompatibility of free will with basic and hard-to-deny assumptions of science. About seven years ago I decided to look for the exact assumption that precludes freedom, and this book's first part lays out my answer: the existence of a fixed totality of possible worlds, one of which is ours. Its second part hypothesizes an alternative to that assumption: life is not the instantiation of pre-existing possibilities, but the continuous creation of new possibilities, a process which I dub "platonic bloom". As I may have mentioned before, this alternative idea has had one previous champion that I'm aware of, namely Henri Bergson. But Bergson left the idea vague and metaphorical, whereas I make platonic bloom into a clear hypothesis of what you might call highly speculative physics. I've taken to saying that there is a 5% chance that this hypothesis is true. I say it half-jokingly but in fact that really is my best estimate, which I've arrived at as follows. When I think myself really deeply into these issues, I have a feeling that my theory must be right, with 100% certainty. At all other times it seems preposterous (0% probability) that this kid from Michigan should have stumbled his way into the intellectual advance of the century. Because I'm in the former mood only about 5% of my waking hours, I take that as the overall probability. Not a high number, I suppose. But if this hypothesis were true, it would make life radically more intelligible; it would reconcile free will and causality; it would be fantastic.

Finishing a full draft was gratifying -- it felt great to have stated this hypothesis in a clear and hopefully entertaining way, and to have explained to the best of my ability why it ought to be true. It made me happy and relaxed for a few weeks. However, I feel that it's now making me restless. The hypothesis is there and waiting to be tested (if only for mathematical consistency). Ultimately, I think even my prodigious laziness will yield to the compulsion I feel to test and refine it. It's this need I feel to do this work (as much as the physical problems I've had from working at a computer all
day every weekday) that leads me now to concede defeat in my réembourgeoisement project**. I just can't work my day job full-time and have enough brain power left over to do the math I need to do. I can envision disproving my hypothesis, and I can envision definitively failing to prove it (i.e. convincing myself that a proof would be beyond my abilities), and I can envision a subsequent return to full-time software/consulting work in either of these cases. But for now I just can't put off my philosophical work. I realized this a while back, and agreed with my employers that as of October 15th I'll return to my part-time contractor status.

Now, in the spirit of Ben A's leadership seminar, let us "List major goals".

  • Try to prove that platonic bloom (specifically, what my book calls a "Bergson history") is mathematically consistent (with a suitable large-cardinal axiom, if necessary)
  • Working from a different angle, try to see how a dense partial-ordering could have a unique natural real-valued metric. (Ideally, you would be able to prove that a Bergson history would have such a metric.)
  • Continue working on website-code-generation system in the context of projects for my employer
  • Cook more
  • Join a gym for chrissakes
  • Rejoin choir in January

*If you'd like to see a PDF of the draft, e-mail me (my first name at this domain).

**Reading that other stock-taking post from nine months ago, I'm struck by how much worse my writing is now. I honestly think that full-time work is ruining my brain; I mean this not to denounce the professional lifestyle, within which many people thrive intellectually (e.g. Ben H), but only to say that it's not for me. Corollary: there is a good chance that my posts will increase in quality post-October 15. [Doug: 9/27/04 22:43]
A New World Record

Ben A., you have uncovered the most extreme example of obsessive loserdom in the history of the web. Well done. [Ben H.: 9/27/04 20:52]

What if every story were written like a science fiction story? Excellent.

via the poor man

Oh, and Ben H, you were in more danger than you imagined [Ben A.: 9/27/04 18:20]
Peanut-Brain Pipes Up

Jimmy Carter is whining that after four years of microscopic scrutiny, Florida voting arrangements do not meet basic international standards. Really? Like the basic international standards on display in Venezuela, where Carter ratified the results a few short hours after the polls closed? He did so there in spite of a deulge of credible reports of chavista abuses, a deeply suspect and largely untested electronic voting system, and a massive discrepancy between exit poll results and announced results. But there's a difference, you see. Florida's Secretary of State (the official in charge of elections) is a Republican. The Venezuela CNE was dominated by chavistas, who it is to be supposed are more trustworthy than your average GOPer. [Ben H.: 9/27/04 18:20]
Gas Giant

Kevin Holtsberry has graciously afforded me the opportunity to review on his site the latest book by CNN's smug, noxious windbag, Lou Dobbs. You can see my impartial assessment there. [Ben H.: 9/27/04 09:22]
The Racist Yokels!

I made the long drive up to Cornell this weekend (2hrs and 15 minutes to get from 53rd and 6th Avenue to the far side of Newark; 3hrs amd 30 minutes to go go the remaining 190 miles). As I approached Ithaca, I noted a succession of road signs along these lines:


Kill a wog? Was this some sort of amusement, like an ultrapatriotic dunking booth, located next to the whack-a-mole? No, as it turns out, this is the name of a Broome County village: settled by the descendents of Enoch Powell in 1969. Ok, maybe I made that last part up.

The other end of the political spectrum has its own onamastic territory. On the way back, I passed through the northern Pennsylvania town of Bushkill!

By the way, Ithaca is really beautiful this time of year. If only they could do something about winter, it would be a lovely place to live... [Ben H.: 9/27/04 08:54]
On the leadership seminar issue, Ben, you should have gotten my employers to facilitate your event -- they would never let the coffee run out. That's just unprofessional. [Doug: 9/25/04 17:02]
Europe's Answer To Baseball Commentary

After dinner we get back to our friends' apartment in Turin, and they're watching real-time soccer commentary on TV. The Juventus games are pay-per-view or something, so the broadcast channels show a bunch of guys sitting in a press box looking intently at (what one assumes is) a live soccer game and talking to each other about it. Every once in a while they cut to this gorgeous blonde woman who doesn't talk, which is fine by me because I don't speak Italian. And they also cut slightly less often to these computer animations of (what one assumes is) key plays of the current match, which look like Activision or early PlayStation.

Italy is a deeply silly country.

They do eat well, however; we have taken advantage of the fact that it's truffle season here. Let me know if you want me to bring one back for you guys -- I could probably get a white truffle through customs by gluing it to my neck and claiming that it's a goiter.

[Doug: 9/25/04 16:53]
Shades of Grady

So, Ben, why didn't Terry Francona pull Pedro Martinez when practically everybody at Fenway knew a pitching change was called for? Grady Little made the same costly error last year. I find it hard to believe that two respectable managers would commit this same mistake out of ignorance. SOme other explanation is called for. My hunch is that Pedro is such a psycho, that his managers step lightly around him. They realize that it may be time to yank him, but know that there will be costs to doing so -- maybe he'll be so angry that he goes and punches a wall (oh, wait -- that's a Yankee problem), or won't be in a good frame of mind for his next start, or will be a disruptive clubhouse influence. Or maybe he's just so personally unpleasant and intimidating that, like with any such employee, his boss goes out of his way to avoid confronting him. Any thoughts? [Ben H.: 9/25/04 10:51]
Poetry Corner

I sit in the leadership seminar
A teamwork video plays
I sit in the leadership seminar
And there is no coffee

I sit in the leadership seminar
We list major goals
I sit in the leadership seminar
And grow ever angrier

I sit in the leadership seminar
As my life slowly ebbs
I sit in the leadership seminar
And stare at the flip chart
[Ben A.: 9/24/04 15:30]
Who Can Get to The Bottom of Rathergate?

The only way to really get a full accounting from CBS is to use the legal discovery process to force them to cough up information. The question, though, is, who can haul them before the bar? Not "the people" -- no crime has been committed. Bush himself won't sue, nor would he have a good libel case, since he is a public figure. Killian is dead -- a dead man has no claim for libel. But what about Staudt? The fake memos claim Staudt brought pressure on Killian. That seems defamatory to me... [Ben H.: 9/23/04 07:02]
Semper Vigilans

The Department of Homeland Security has expanded its mandate to include protecting Americans from washed-up pop stars. Preventing hairy, crack-brained ex-crooners like Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens from entering the country is a good start. Staking out my usual position at the extreme end of the political spectrum, I beseech DHS to also consider actively picking up and deporting has-beens already in the country. Send the patrols to the Hollywood Hills!! [Ben H.: 9/22/04 08:09]
UN Kleptocratic Excess Watch

We have our first entry, from The Count:

On Park Avenue between 51st and 52nd, there are two black Escalades, a Toyota Minivan and two limousines. Each had a sign in the window with a "car number" and a designation that they belonged to the Gabon delegation. The "car numbers" were quite high -- they got up to #18 -- which suggests there are cars beyond those I saw. One of the cars was marked specifically for "Ministre Oyembe." It looks like the cars are supposed to take the Gabonese from the Palace to the UN.

Gabon is one of the richer countries in black Africa, but it is nonetheless poor enough to be a serial defaulter on both the Paris and London Club.

UPDATE: Photographer evidence

You know, Bono is right. We need to offer debt relief to poor countries. Foreign Minister Casimir Oyembe deserves better than some crappy Lincoln Town Car! I'll bet he's even been forced to stay in a junior suite at the Palace! [Ben H.: 9/21/04 08:26]
And If I Make a Graceless Apology, I'd Like to Break That Story

Did you really expect anything more? I'm at the "whatever" stage on the performance the press generally.

Doug, that's a quality cryptic. I'm sorry that I was too tempest-tossed to spend any time figuring it out.
[Ben A.: 9/20/04 17:12]
BACCHAE, incidentally. [Doug: 9/20/04 16:33]
Some Apology!

Blogosphere and the press are making quite a bit of noise about Dan Rather's statement climbing down on the fraudulent Killian documents. While I glean some satisfaction that Rather and CBS no longer claims the documents are authentic, the statement hardly qualifies as either a full-throated apology or retraction. Of the documents:

I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically.

So the idea is that these docs don't rise to the high standard (snicker, snicker) of evidence that CBS insists on, but that it is not the case that they are clumsy, obvious forgeries? CBS is still holding out for a sort of "not proven" verdict rather than a non-technical declaration of innocense. Lame!

And as for the apology:

But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.

To whom is the apology addressed? Rather does not make that explicit, but the tone suggests to me an apology to the misled audience. It seems to me that Rather owes apologies to several other victims: to the bloggers who he classed in sinister tones as "partisan operatives"; to Jerry Killian's wife and son, for having besmirched Killian's reputation, passing fake documents showing him to have caved in to pressure to violate TANG rules; to the document examiners CBS hired and whose opinions it misrepresented and whose honesty it impugned when CBS claimed they had changed their stories. [Ben H.: 9/20/04 16:18]
It makes a king feel like some nutty, cuckoo, super-king

Sounds good to me, and why not build permanent facilities in the new Capital City for the olympic games, instead of building billion-dollar stadiums from scratch every four years? [Doug: 9/20/04 11:07]
The UN and the World of Today

Having hosted the disruptive Republican Convention this year, New York might have expected to earn at least a one-month breather from traffic-snarling political confabs. Alas, no. I came to work this morning to find several nearby blocks cordoned off, the flashing lights and jersey barriers reminding me that it is that annual September headache, the UN General Assembly plenary. The RNC only wreaked havoc on New York's productivity for a couple of days; the General Assembly gives rise to the optimistically named UN Week, which exceeds its calendar designation by a couple of days at least. For the duration, Midtown is tied in knots and criss-crossed by convoys of diplomatic-plated black cars. One fun activity during UN week is to spot the biggest disjunction between a country's UN Week-related activities and that country's wealth. Last year's champ: Cameroon's delegation had a fleet of nearly a dozen vans parked outside my office building nearly all week, on call to ferry their huge delegation from the New York Palace Hotel to the UN, a half-mile away. Cameroon's per capita GDP in USD: $563. Paul Biya's regime has set a high standard, but we're sure some banana republic will meet the challenge and up the ante this year! Haitian delegation dines out at Alain Ducasse? I appeal to New York-based readers to keep their eyes peeled and to report candidates!

UN Week offers me the opportunity to take up a justified but ultimately futile cry. Even if you don't believe the US should be out of the UN, you cannot deny that the UN should be out of the US (ok, New York). New York is one of a handful of major cities that operate at close to 100% capacity. Whenever the UN brings a bigwig or collection of bigwigs to town, it inflicts much greater economic loss than it generates economic activity. The alternative uses to which the land upon which the UN campus sits can be put are practically infinite, as is the difficulty of securing the UN while it sits there. If the UN really cares about human development, it ought to pick some small, out of the way island, and put the UN there. The diplos would be able to come and go without disrupting other people's lives, could live there cheaply, and would not face any distractions from their important work. The location would be completely secure. Of course, in that case the tin-pot dictators of the world wouldn't have an excuse to come shopping in New York once a year, nor the plum of life in a mansion in New York (tax-free) to offer to their cronies. So what do you say, guys? WIll you take up the cry: "UN to Saint Helena"?
[Ben H.: 9/20/04 08:48]
Sky Captain...

...And the World of James Lileks' toaster.

Let me qualify my rave at the outset. I have seen the original "Captain Marvel" film serial in its entirety, and spent the bulk of a recent transcontinental plane ride reading Doc Savage pulps. So I constitute something like the ideal audience for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. That said, this is one gorgeous flick. Every element of design is burnished to glowing, from the raygun to the robots to the sepia hued digital Manhattan. The basic dramatic action, well, that's not so slickly managed. Please do me a favor and see this movie, so that the genius behind it gets $70mm to do it again. Ben H, given the trash Cinema Angelika trash that seems to afflict you, perhaps a good ray gun fight can restore faith in the promise of cinema. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Addendum: Bill James developed this stat, component ERA. The idea being that based on the hits and walks (the components of run scoring) a pitcher gives up, you could get a predicted earned run average to compare to what actually happened. The relevance? I think Angelina Jolie has a higher "component sexiness" than what she actually exhibits. She's got the tools, but ends up leaving me cold. Maybe the overstuffed lips are analogous to a penchant for the gopher ball. [Ben A.: 9/20/04 01:30]
"Girls Gone Wild" CA. beach special (7)

Not much to report from our European vacation. Currently in the Haute Savoie with Dao's cousin and his family. His oldest kid is seven years old and can explain to you in perfect English or French why Frisbees can fly farther on the Earth than on the moon even though there's more gravity, and he figured out that the train-sensor mechanism on his Brio set was triggered by magnets in the train. He's not the only precocious kid in the neighborhood -- there's a nine-year old girl next door who has already gone through puberty and is about as tall as Dao ... it's disconcerting because she still acts like a kid (e.g. giving the obligatory bisou to all adults present).

I've made significant progress on my Frisbee forehand.
[Doug: 9/19/04 14:06]
Every Dog...

Jon Lieber tossing a two-hitter? Who would have thought him capable of it? With such a lead, the Yanks can afford to leave Gordon and Mariano unused, a nice little bonus. [Ben H.: 9/18/04 15:56]
Reaping the Whirlwind

Yeah, gloating would have been premature... [Ben A.: 9/18/04 15:17]
Gloat? Me?

To gloat now would be the wrong gloating at the wrong time. Truly, it was a wonderful, tightly-played game (although Lofton should have had Damon's ball -- Rivera looked justifiably irked). It should be a great stretch drive.

Will you be able to make it up for the 26th? [Ben A.: 9/18/04 01:17]

To forestall any gloating on your part, Ben A, after the Red Sox' last-minute victory, allow me to compliment your team on a fine performance. As for the Bombers, Mariano Rivera looked rather unimpressive tonight. Maybe it was past his bedtime. Anyway, the weekend is young. We'll be back! [Ben H.: 9/17/04 23:59]
Last Iraq War Comment For Two Months

Let me suggest that in addition to sophistry and abject apology, there's a third possible attitude towards the Iraq invasion. Namely, that it was the best of a bad series of options, and though currently beset with dire problems, was nonetheless the right call, improving the security of Americans and the well being of the Iraqi people. Of course, this is a position expounded primarily by such fools, bigots, and knaves as John McCain and Tony Blair, so one must take it for what it’s worth.

What was interesting to me about Belle’s list was how many of her reasons for supporting the war still seem sensible:

#1 Smash *somebody*: check!

#2 Sanctions weren’t working: check!

#3 Saddam Hussein, very bad man: check!

#4 Unique position with respect to international law/UN process on Iraq: check!

#5 Thought Hussein had weapons stockpiles: nope!
But wait, just below in #6 Belle makes a great point – nukes were the only WMD threat anyone really cared about (besides infectious biowarfare, I suppose). So why should we care about #5 being wrong? If the coalition discovered a huge cache of nerve gas in Syria with a note saying “Dear Bashar, please hide this behind your ophthalmoscope while UN inspectors search my country, love Saddam” should that make the Iraq war palatable to Belle or to other war skeptics? Doubtful. And you know what? They’d be right! The core security issue always was a nuclear program known to be incomplete, yet highly desired. And the argument here was: we were wrong before, sanctions are collapsing, let’s err on the side of caution unless Hussein makes super-nice. The actual existence of chemical weapons stockpiles, while an important element of the UN case, was largely irrelevant to the security threat Iraq posed.

#6 Competence Argument A (intelligence) -- Saddam’s nuke program wasn’t as far along as suspected, further Bush lied about it.
Let me respond again, with a big “who cares” to this. Have we learned anything suggesting that Saddam didn’t want nukes? Do we believe he would not have had them in 5-10 years absent regime change? The unfortunate reference to uranium from Africa (unfortunate because insufficiently verified to be presented in the SotU, not unfortunate because we know to be false, by the way) hasn’t changed these facts. So *if* we wanted to deny Hussein nuclear weapons in the medium term, regime change still seems the way to do it.

#7 Competence Argument B (prioritization) -- thought the administration could simultaneously maintain a high level of focus in Afghanistan/vs. Al Queda: nope!.
It is just the case that few organizations can pursue two #1 priorities. Clearly, the administration would have placed more emphasis on Afghansitan absent the Iraq invasion. But have the consequences of diminished focus really been so terrible? There have been no Al Queda attacks on US soil for three years, and that can’t be because of the immense difficulty of killing/terrorize Americans. Heck Malvo and Mohammed did it with an outlay of approximately 4000 bucks. Maybe, just maybe, the threat presented by a nutty, WMD-seeking dictator with massive oil wealth and pan-Arabist ambitions exceeds the danger posed by on-the-run Al Queda fragments. This is a legitimate policy difference, but by no means a decisive argument against the Iraq invasion.

#8 Competence Argument C (execution) –- thought occupation would be handled better: fair cop!
This is, I think, close to unarguable. Almost everyone now believes the occupation could have ben handled better. But I do not see compelling evidence that the current situation represents a complete fiasco, or is irretrievable. Yes, it has been worse than expected. Much worse. Does this, alone, make the decision to invade a poor one? I fear this is where we must agree to disagree…

#9 Was overly swayed by humanitarian arguments.
Indeed, it would be a fallacy to think that a humanitarian case for intervention always makes a decisive case. These arguemtns count as big plus factors for me, sometimes justifying armed intervention when no national interest obtains (as in the Balkans and now Sudan), but I would agree they cannot always be decisive. [Ben A.: 9/17/04 12:29]
On the "Satan" issue, you're right that in informal conversation people on the left use that word (in the metaphorical sense that you note) about Bush as much as people on the right use it to describe his enemies. But neither side uses the word in public pronouncements (yet). What I'm wondering is whether a day will come when Republicans will get before the cameras and publicly identify their opponents (domestic or foreign) as minions of a non-metaphorical Satan. I was pretty much kidding and I doubt it will ever happen. Who knows though.

A more culturally nuanced straw-man than Satan would be Termagant. [Doug: 9/17/04 09:43]
Correct ... I can't remember his name though. [Doug: 9/17/04 09:32]

Didn't Beavis and Butthead's sensitive teacher have that tic?


I don't think you should hold your breath waiting for prominent Republicans to start sounding like Dana Carvey's Church Lady, certainly not with respect to their political rivals. Do you really think major Republicans think Kerry is evil? I don't know the deep recesses of their souls, but I think they hold him in contempt, they find his views seriously misguided, but they don't see him as the instrument of dark forces. The Dems on the other hand, do ascribe sinister motives to the Republicans and would probably equate Bush with Satan if their ontology admitted of the any religious concepts. They have, for instance, equated him with the secular equivalent of Satan, namely Hitler (see Rep Owen's comments at the NOW rally).

As for our Islamist foes, you needn't wait at all. At least one minor figure already identified them with the Devil. Perhaps to announce such a view is unwise, insofar as it needlessly inflames anti-war sentiment and might alienate Muslims "on the fence." However, I don't see anything inherently untrue about the comparison except to the extent you take Satan to mean an actual existent being rather than a metaphorical representation of radical evil. [Ben H.: 9/17/04 09:29]
Also, I apologize for suggesting that sophistry is the only possible recourse for people who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq. Belle Waring gives a remarkably full and honest account of why she wrongly supported it. (Only, I can't figure out her apparent joke about the "containment" approach to communism -- is she implying that it would have been better than "rollback" and that "rollback" is the approach that we actually followed?)
[Doug: 9/17/04 09:15]
For the most unhinged post-Bush victory editorial I'd say Bob Herbert but only because I don't really read any major papers except the Times. Also, he might not count, if to qualify you need not only to write for a major paper but be read in it.

Why isn't the answer to the Nation question "the same tired old farts who always write there"? A harder question to answer is what the reaction of mainstream Democrats will be. I really don't have any idea.

Latest polls show Bush's lead growing. My take on the current dynamic is that Kerry just hasn't offered a compelling counter-narrative to "all-out war of Good versus Evil." Bush's narrative is exciting; to live in his universe is give your life, however mundane it is, a tinge of the knightly and the noble. What does Kerry promise? Peace? For two weeks I've been in France, the land of Perpetual Peace, the Kingdom of Ends, and let me tell you, just about everybody seems listless and glum. There's no grand story being woven around all these functionaries and shopkeepers; the newspapers are full of petty issues like the retirement age and school reform. Something like 30% of the adult population is on anti-depressants. If anyone needs a needless war, it's these people. Where's the Kaiser when you need him?

So one question is: can any political narritive compete with Bush's war of good vs. evil?

Another question is: how much farther down their current path do Republicans need to go before they can start publicly identifying their opponents with Satan? I assume that many do so privately, and many have already crossed the line of publicly identifying their leadership with God's will. It would take more time and confidence before they can get in front of the cameras and say, "A vote for Kerry is a vote for The Fiend" ... but how much more? Ten years?
[Doug: 9/17/04 08:41]
I was finally able to watch "Office Space" on our jury-rigged DVD system. It was funny if not as funny as I'd expected. Trivia question: what previous Mike Judge character shared the boss's verbal tic of pronouncing OK "mmmmKay?" And one non-trivial question: just where on the net does one go for copies of Beavis and Butthead episodes with the videos left in? This is one case where the net is failing badly. [Doug: 9/17/04 08:08]
My Prediction

My entry in into the Left-Wing Whig-Out Prediction Derby: Lewis Lapham. It's an easy choice. He's probably already written it. [Ben H.: 9/17/04 08:02]

A book is only as good as its reviews

[Ben A.: 9/17/04 02:55]
From the Muse that Inspired the Lego Bible...

Spider Man reviews crayons.

Also, kudos to Ben H for referencing the best movie-montage rap song of all time. [Ben A.: 9/17/04 02:13]
The net appears to be closing on the source of the forged memos. Hilarious novelistic detail: the memos were faxed in from Kinko’s. Sweet.

As for substance, I like Ben H., assume that influence placed Bush in the guard, and see the real story as the combined incompetence/intransigence of CBS. The past few years has seen a golden age of press criticism; the sausage factory of news creation is visible as never before. Most political junkies of my acquaintance (left and right) just take it as given that press coverage skews the news like a fun house mirror. I am less sure how broadly this insight is shared. Perhaps loss of confidence in the mainstream media can be blamed for everyone tuning into their own politicized information ghettos, but I rather suspect the causality goes the other way round.

Where’s The Outrage?

It’s on the center-left, of course. And I suspect it’s going to get much worse. While the race is by no means sewn up, Kerry is in trouble: Ohio looking uncompetitive, Florida trending Bush, Wisconsin (Wisconsin!) trending Bush, Pennsylvania even or trending Bush, hell even New Jersey is only 6 points for Kerry. The range of options now spans a close Kerry win, a close Bush win, a solid Bush win, and perhaps, even a Bush blowout. In either of the latter two cases, the left is going to freak out.

Let me elaborate. From 1998-2000 conservatives went insane as they detailed to their satisfaction what a dirt bag Clinton was, presented the case to the public, and got completely ignored. I cannot imagine how the right would have responded had Clinton had won election again.

Well, the left and center-left have travelled the same path, expatiating on Bush's mendacity, incompetence, and corruption. And as of this writing, it seems he could win big. This moves me to inaugurate a two-part Left Wing Wig-Out Prediction Derby. First element: who will author the most unhinged post-election op-ed published in a major daily? Second element: what will be the author list for the issue of The Nation that follows the election?

[[In the interests of fair play, we can run the same on National Review should Kerry pull through.]]
[Ben A.: 9/17/04 00:24]
Put it in a box and mail it to Aunt Nellie

CBS "Fake-But-Accurate" Evening News plunges in the ratings. This could be a serious problem for several U.S. businesses. Where will Geritol, Depend Undergarments, and various purveyors of arthritis medicine be able to home in on a receptive audience now?
[Ben H.: 9/16/04 12:42]
Sure Feels Good To Be a Gangster

SInce I both start work very early in the morning and live in Brooklyn, I have planned my commute in near-scientific detail. I may alter my route depending on the exact time I walk out the door in the morning and the time certain trains arrive. This morning, my complicated decision tree directed me to the F train and suggested that I debark at Broadway-Lafayette and take the 6 train the rest of the way. This is an operation that must be planned to the second, and which is complicated by the fact that there is no direct transfer between the F and the uptown 6 at this stop. I waited at the rear of the F, dashed out the carefully chosen exit that would place me closest to the Bleeker Street 6 stop, and started walking over. I kept my ear cocked toward the street-vents, from which I heard a rumble that portended the approach of the 6. I broke into a sprint, hurtled down the stairs, Metrocard in hand, just as I heard the train's doors opening, and swiped myself through. "Please swipe again." Done. "Please swipe again." Facing a 12 minute wait for the next train (I've calculated these things!) if I continued my futile negotiation with the card reader, I chose instead to embark on a life of crime. I braced myself and jumped the turnstile, darting into the subway car just as the doors closed behind me. Believe it or not, this is the very first time I have jumped a turnstile. It felt great to put one over on the Man! Of course, I hold a 30-day unlimited-ride Metrocard, so on further reflection it is not clear exactly what I stuck to the Man. I had already paid for my ride. As it turns out, I had not even committed a ticketable offense. Note the following, from the Daily News:

Take Dave Palmer, who jumped a turnstile recently at the 116th St. station after futilely swiping his 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCard at a bad machine. The downtown 6 train was approaching, so instead of alerting the token clerk, the 28-year-old hopped the turnstile - earning him a $60 summons for fare evasion.

Palmer went to the Transit Adjudication Bureau run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in downtown Brooklyn. He showed a copy of his pay stub, which included the amount of money automatically deducted for his MetroCard.

"It was dismissed," said Palmer, who works at a nonprofit organization. "The judge didn't want to see anything else."

So was it worth the day-long trek to Brooklyn? Absolutely, Palmer said.

"I believe in paying taxes, paying the transit fares to get the budget in order," Palmer said. "But this? Jumping the turnstile is not illegal - evading the fare would be."

[Ben H.: 9/16/04 08:11]
Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

Can CBS get away with passing forgeries by claiming that, after all, the story the fogeries bolster is true? I hope not. I find it plausible, even probable, that by 1972, George Bush was slacking off in meeting his TANG commitments. At that point, with the Vietnam War winding down, the National Guard all over was overstaffed and not overscrupulous about making sure all weekend warriors' commitments were met.* It makes sense and it accords with some eyewitness testimony. Of course, it makes not a whit of difference to my presidential election choice; I doubt I am alone in that sentiment.

So let's just concede the point that the underlying story is true. It's somehow not a story that CBS used obviously fabricated evidence to try to prove it? Somebody from CBS ought to go tell Mark Fuhrman. "Hey, Mark, you know, you were right on to plant that bloody glove, because, after all, it was pretty clear O.J. was guilty, right?" CBS's leftist journalists surely regard the Exclusionary Rule as a constituent commandment of their secular Decalogue. It is the height of hypocrisy - though not a surprise - for them to resort to a defense they would instantly dismiss were it to come from a police officer trying to excuse tainted evidence.

Since I concede that Bush did not complete his Guard commitments, CBS can stop yammering about the "broader story." I accept the broader story. However, it's a much less important question - regarding rather trivial scrimshanking of 32 years ago - than that of whether CBS today, in the midst of an election campaign, is peddling forgeries; and, being caught, has refused to admit it, but rather tried to dredge up dubious experts and to "smear" the people who detected the imposture. So, Dan: to those of us who accept the "broader story" but are still flabbergasted by the forgery, how do you explain yourself?

*my father was in the Guard in New York around that time and reports that this was the case at least in his area. [Ben H.: 9/16/04 06:38]
Ivan The Wuss

Hurricane Ivan, that alleged superstorm, will not earn in place in my book of the Truly Great Storms. Ivan was on course to obliterate Jamaica and veered off at the last minute, almost as if flinching. Then it politely shimmied to the west of Cuba, but not so far west that it could harm Yucatan. Then it strode slowly, menacingly toward New Orleans, but as of this writing it appears to be veering off and leaving the Big Easy intact. I can't help but reach the conclusion that Ivan, despite its size and force, lacks that killer instinct that distinguishes the great meteorological champions from the also-rans. [Ben H.: 9/15/04 16:33]
Unity of the Virtues Watch: Bill James

This article by Bill James is typically astute. But what earns the link is the last two lines:

Bill James, Chairman Emeritus
Swift Boat Veterans for Kevin Youkilis

via baseball crank [Ben A.: 9/15/04 13:21]
Social Life Spoiled By Politics

A politically isolated New Yorker expresses the same frustration as Ben A. professed to feel in an earlier post. [Ben H.: 9/15/04 10:50]
That's more like it! [Doug: 9/13/04 16:06]
You Want Sophistry?

What Ben H said basically encapsulates my response. I am so pleased to learn, Doug, that you think some level of sophistry lies beneath my dignity (probably news to many)that I feel a need to reply, even at the risk of redudancy. Fortunately, I was reading the Protagoras this weekend, so I can provide an appropriate rejoinder:

Socrates: would we say, Protagoras, that all elements of the Iraq invasion are parts of one thing, or otherwise?
Protagoras: Surely they are parts of one thing, Socrates!
S: And are they parts in a like sense that mouth, nose, and eyes, and ears, are the parts of a face; or are they like the parts of gold, which differ from the whole and from one another only in being larger or smaller?
P: The former, Socrates.
S: So could not one part be defective, without making the whole defective?
P: Surely a face without eyes is defective, Socrates
S: But, if the goal is to crush another man's head with a hammer, could not even an eyeless face do so? You could smell the man coming, and then smack him real good!
P: Would it not be better to see the man coming, Socrates?
S: At least I'm trying to hit some guy with a hammer, not selling the hammer to get bribe money for teamsters in Pennsylvania, for christsakes!
P: I must confess, Socrates...
S: Oh, sorry, I suppose I should be out windsurfing too. Lookit me, I'm a virile windsurfer with a $14,000 bicycle!
P: I still think you could hit the man better if you could see, Socrates.
S: Whatever, pinko.
[Ben A.: 9/13/04 12:42]
I think after a year and half with his chest cavity open and festering Bill would start to worry ... [Doug: 9/13/04 12:29]
Quod est desiderandum

I changed the tense, because this is not a desire, which satisfied in part, ceases to exist. "Smite", though, is pitch-perfect.

I think it should be noted that the Army has finally hit on the solution to the "Arab Car Swarm." It kind of reminds me of how lions tend to wait around watering holes for their pray, rather than chasing them all over the veldt.

I'm not going to say that a rash of mortar attacks and car bombs make America safer. If you choose the frame of a single day, then, of course, it is bad news. But we embarked on a project to deal with Iraq and the Middle East that will ultimately make American and the West safer. You might well have asked of Bill Clinton's doctor the moment he cracked his chest, "my god, you just dissected this man and broke half his ribs? You mean to tell me this is going to help?"

But let me toss one right back at you, Doug. Did you see the Security Council resolution on Syrian involvement in Lebanon? Do you think that the geopolitical cost of our supposed "estrangement" from our "allies" is really as high as the New York Times has supposed? [Ben H.: 9/13/04 11:01]
Call to Sophistry

Maybe it's still too early in the states, but the morning papers should have been a call to sophistry for you guys: how do the latest mini-tet-offensive in Iraq and the emergence of Al Qaeda city-states there "make America and the world safer"? I know you guys can explain it! (I suppose this is more a call to Ben A., since Ben H. can just say "More Arabs are dead, Quod Erat Desirandum*." And Ben A., we both have master's degrees in sophistry, so just between us, the old "Hmmm, I just don't know enough of the facts on the ground to judge one way or the other" is beneath your dignity.)

The one bright note is that we continue to rain death from the air on terrorists and those who celebrate their attacks. To our site's pile of failed neologisms and ignored pleas to rehabilitate words, I'd like to add the suggestion that we use "smite" to describe attacks like our recent ones on Fallujah. I like how it evokes the omnipotent, inscrutable old-testament god punishing evildoers from above the clouds.

"U.S. Smites 14 From On High, Scores Wounded"

*Or correctly declined words to that effect. [Doug: 9/13/04 08:39]
Why The New York Times Magazine Is Still Better Than TV News

Deb Solomon is a schmuch, to be sure, but who wouldn't want to have her self-assurance? Lecturing Nobel Laureates, Poet Laureates on their own fields of expertise, well that takes brass balls, uh, brass ovaries. Week after week, though, she comes out the worse from these interactions. You have to credit the Times Mag for printing these devastating rejoinders rather than expurgating them the way, say, CBS would on one of its heavily edited "news"magazines. [Ben H.: 9/11/04 17:26]
When Interviewees Attack: Volume 10

Deb Solomon interviews Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and proves she can provoke anyone, even an elderly, amiable Nebraskan, into lashing out:

DS: As poet laureate, don't you think you should be better acquainted with European poetry?

TK: Think of all the European poetry I could have read if we hadn't spent all this time on this interview.

[Ben A.: 9/11/04 16:08]
Cross-Posting's Finest Hour

I hadn't read your comment on stupid people when I wrote the post below, Ben H, but you see we were thinking the same way.

The topic reminds me of a conversation I had recently with my boss: "Ben, you need to decide if you can deal with idiocy. If you want to work in an operating company, you will have to work surrounded by idiots. That's just the cost of working in an enterprise large enough to get major initiatives accomplished. If you can't you should probably find some small setting -- a newsletter, a hedge fund, whatever -- and go to work there."

[Of course, I can't possibly be the idiot in the room. It must be the others!]

[Ben A.: 9/10/04 21:02]
A Plan Fiendish in its Intricacies

Kerning? Supercript? Autowrapping? But seriously, superscript?

[Ben A.: 9/10/04 20:54]
The Ubiquity of Stupid People

You fellows have no doubt been following the story of the possible forgery of the "Killian memos", purportedly original documents relating to George Bush's national guard service. I don't really have anything to say about Bush's guard service or the political importance of the documents, whether they turn out to be authentic (looking very doubtful) or forged. What I find fascinating is the response of CBS News, which obtained and publicized the documents, to the mounting evidence of their fraudulence.

I waited around the office to watch Dan Rather's anticipated rebuttal of the storm of web-based debunking of the documents. His defense pretty much boiled down to this: "We are CBS News, we are confident these documents are legitimate. We have one expert who says so, but we won't explain on what grounds; we can rebut two of the two dozen or so pieces of evidence for their fraudulence, provided we misconstrue the true force of these two observations and formulate our rebuttal in sly and misleading language."

Now, many of the bloggers who have participated in researching these docs and building the case against them attribute CBS's breathless revelation of the documents and huffy dismissal of counterclaims as part of some deep, dark conspiracy at the highest level of the network. How could might CBS News let such documents on the air when a few bloggers in their free time could, within a day, uncover and cite numerous indicia of forgery?

Well, I worked at a newsmagazine at CBS News for a summer. CBS's actions surprise me not in the least. THe key to understanding this it to know what is apparent to anyone who spends a little time in network news. Most of the people who work in it are really quite stupid. The greatest misapprehension about broadcast journalism (and maybe hard journalism in general) has nothing to do with the much-debated question of objectivity. It is the idea that broadcast journalism, as a highly competitive field, is filled with brilliant, hard-driving staffers. In my experience, the producers were, yes, ambitious, but not particularly sedulous. The office certainly was not intellectual, though I don't think that would surprise anyone, but it was more than that. I found myself surrounded by stupid people. They possessed neither broad knowledge, nor good judgment, nor the desire or equipment to develop either. Charles Johnson takes one look at the Killian memos and says, "hey, these don't look like they came from a typewriter". So he retypes them in Microsoft Word, prints them out and overlays them on CBS's docs. 100% match. How did CBS miss this, people ask. Because the people at CBS are stupid. It would not occur to them to devise this sort of simple experiment. They don't know very much about computers, let alone typefaces. And from what I saw, I suspect they don't really care to learn. They want to leave the office and go play softball or sink into the couch and watch television. One needn't resort to wild theories of skullduggery to explain what's happened at CBS. Rather, imagine if the Postal Service put together the evening news broadcast. Because the people who are doign the job now aren't much better. [Ben H.: 9/10/04 20:54]
Coinage of the Day

The sort of stuff you buy (other than food) at Wal-Mart: Crâp de chine [Doug: 9/10/04 09:26]
Oooh, Low Blow

Bringing up Raul Mondesi! Really, Ben! [Ben H.: 9/9/04 13:53]
The Destruction of Sennacharib

A long as we have boy genius and Jewish culture hero Theo Epstein masterminding our efforts, bloated Yankee moneybags will have no more effect on the fate of the righteous BoSox than did the elephants of Antiochus on the armies of Judah the Macabee! And won’t the $34 mm still owed to Raul Mondesi cramp the Steinbrenner style even a little?
[Ben A.: 9/9/04 13:39]
It Doesn't Look Good

The Yankees look wobbly, I'll admit. On the other hand, I think you are being unfair to the organization over their position on the Devil Rays' failure to show up. The Yanks wound up with a stadium full of angry fans to placate and a unanticipated strain on their pitching rotation. 90% of life is just showing up. 90% of a win (at least) to the Yankees by forfeit!

Forget about the regular season, though. My great worry, as a Yankee fan, is the prospect of facing the Red Sox head-to-head in the playoffs. With Pedro throwing 95 mph again, no Yankee batter's head is safe! But no worries. He'll probably be a Yankee before too long. You see, Ben, New York, I'll freely admit, is a stink pit. But so is Boston. And New York is bigger and richer. What you have and we want, we'll buy. So my advice to you: enjoy it while it lasts... [Ben H.: 9/9/04 07:47]
Two Games and Closing

The Yankees ask for forfeits, demand do-overs, and argue that the the Loaiza trade is governed by playground rules of “givsies-backsies.” Meanwhile, the Invincible Red Sox Juggernaut rolls onward.* In other news cheering to the armies of light, the Pedro Martinez of 2002 has returned, lighting up the radar gun in the high 90s.

Also, in-house medical staff point to the following illuminating analysis correlating Boxer’s fractures to high rates of “injury recidivism.”

*And whom, exactly does a juggernaut crush? Better not to ask…
[Ben A.: 9/9/04 05:24]
Silence Broken, Briefly

At least one prominent Muslim confronts what Beslan means for his religion. May he be widely read... [Ben H.: 9/7/04 15:18]
Income Inequality

Most of the conventional accounts of income inequality blame a combination of increasing returns to education, "globalization" (i.e. economic activity moving from the center to the periphery due to lower trade barriers), and immigration. I think the latter two are really the same thing: call it "global labor-market arbitrage." Rather than rehash the arguments, I'll try to dig up a few good papers and post links.

Interestingly enough, the most commonly cited data-set on income distribution is a rather dubious tool for measuring the impact of tax changes. The Current Population Survey only directly measures pre-tax income. The Census Bureau has an imputed "post-tax income" measure that it considers "experimental". Given that the CPS shows increasing income inequality over the 1970-2000 period, taxes cannot be the mainspring of increased income dispersion.

Aside from the substantive causes of increased income inequality, there are a few statistical artifacts that are often cited as exaggerating the change. First, the combination of using households as the unit of accounting and the increase in single-parent households will tend to make incomes look more unequal. Second, at the bottom end of the distribution, government benefits take the form of non-money income, which (aside from the EITC - cash money) escapes measurement in CPS and most other income surveys. Third, as health insurance costs skyrocket, most employed people are getting an increasing fraction of their compensation as a lump-sum-value in-kind good. This represents a higher fraction of income for a lower-salary worker and, if measured, would tend to reduce income inequality.

I'd like to suggest another possible statistical artifact, which I haven't read about anywhere, but which I suspect is too obvious to have been overlooked in the literature (I'm just too lazy to track it down): the interaction of age distribution. For a given age cohort, income inequality will follow a broad lifecycle pattern. Think about your own high school class. Five years out, incomes will be fairly tightly clustered. Fifteen years out, people will be entering the peaks of their careers and there will be a greater spread between the most and least succesful. Finally, at retirement, the leveling impact of Social Security will compress income (if not wealth) distribution. The baby boomer have, over the last 30 years, been moving from a point in their lives of minimum income dispersion to that of maximum income dispersion. Might this also exaggerate income inequality?

Allegedly Stagating Wages / Consumption

Don't lump those two together so quickly. As it turns out, the increase in inequality in the one has not led to a corresponding increase in inequality in the other. It's an interesting puzzle that has gotten a lot of attention. [Ben H.: 9/7/04 07:40]
Beslan: Religion of Peace Weighs In

It's good to know that the Muslim clerisy willing to tackle the tough issues. Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of al-Muhajiroun in the UK, says it's a-ok for a Muslim to take children hostage in support of a "just cause." Wait -- listen, do you hear that? It's the sound of moderate Muslims denouncing this barbarian's ravings. The sound otherwise known as "silence." Question: why is this guy still in Britain? [Ben H.: 9/6/04 15:19]
Make Mine a Griffin!

I have always loved heraldry, and regret that Jewish coats of arms have been so limited by injunctions on "graven images." Perhaps you can make mine a Griffin swooping down to pluck children out of the grasp of the public shool system.

But seriously, I am deeply unconvinced that making the tax code (moderately) less progressive will create John Edwards' two Americas. When everybody got filthy rich under Clinton, I didn't hear much concern about inequality. The allegedly* stagnating wages/net worth/consumption of the bottom 50% has been an issue since the early 80s (at least). And I suspect the causes have little to do with American tax policy.

*I say allegedly not because I think it's not true, but because I have no idea. [Ben A.: 9/6/04 14:18]
Stop Talking About Vietnam!

It's a rare thing indeed when I agree with Bill Clinton. I think Ben A. is correct -- Kerry ought to hit back hard, but with outright punches, not counterpunches. But self-regarding prig that he is ("I don't fall down! Son-of-a-bitch knocked me over!"), Kerry might prefer to convince everyone that he is an untainted war hero than win the election. Bill Clinton is the electoral magician of his generation, light-years beyond his fellow Dems even upon the operating table. Luckily for Bush, Kerry is probably too proud to listen.

[Ben H.: 9/6/04 11:40]
The Great Inflation

I'll take a break from being snotty and unconstructive to perform some service as the resident bond geek of this site. Doug raised the question of whether the U.S. might ultimately experience higher inflation as a policy response to a household debt overhang. As I wrote, I share the view that this is not merely a possibility, but a probability. However, I wonder what magnitude of inflation most people who think about this in stylized terms are imagining. I expect that given the apocalyptic sound of the term "debt crisis", they are thinking back to their last experience of equally apocalyptic monetary policy failure, namely the Arthur Burns (and Pre-Volcker) era of double-digit stagflation.

If you are thinking that way, you may be laboring under a misapprehension. Two decades of price stability and a few years where most observers have been worrying about deflation rather than inflation have brought nominal and real interest rates to the lowest levels in generations. The development of the mortgage market has made 30-year fixed borrowing readily available. The real value of a 30-year mortage at today's rates is extremely, extremely sensitive to changes in rates. Let's assume (and this is a very unreasonable assumption, but consider it the worst-case scenario) that the entire increase in real, per-capita household mortgage debt accumulated since the end of 1998 (the point at which the bubble kicked into high gear) is unsustainable debt. If all this debt were in the form of 30-year fixed rate mortgages (it's not, but let's keep this simple), what sort of "inflation surprise" (i.e. change in estimate of average annual inflation over next 30 years) would be required to knock the real value of mortgage debt back to 1998 levels? Well, by my calculation, real per-capita mortgage debt increased 28% between Dec 1998 and Dec 2003. That would entail an inflation surprise of a whopping 2.25% or so! Obviously, I can't say I'd be happy about it, but we're hardly talking the Carter years. [Ben H.: 9/5/04 17:11]

I want one: maybe something depicting an eagle sucking out the contents of the bottom half of the globe with a straw?

Doug, I'm surprised to see you either propagating or falling for a "what-will-you-do-with-all-the-money-you-save*" argument. If you push your income up a percentile you will: 1) pay a higher amount of absolute tax 2) pay a higher percentage of your income as tax 3) pay a higher marginal tax on your last dollar of income 4) 1-3 will be true of both your federal and New York State taxes. The effect of 1-3 will be slightly lower under the post-Clinton rate structure than before. Steering you career in order to put yourself in the bracket that has changed the most strikes me as a bit like going out and buying a Toyota you had no notion you even wanted simply because it's Toyota-thon time.

However, if the changes in the tax structure will have induced you to work and produce more, then you've proved the Supply Siders' point about the effect of marginal tax rates on economic activity. That's not even including the massive increase in the Heraldry industry you'll help spur! Make sure you drop a line to Arthur Laffer if you go this route.

Before you sign on the dotted line at bank for your mortgage, though, you should make sure you're aware of all the consequences of your new membership in the "greedy-top-1%-that-doesn't-pay-its-fair-share" (I guess this is the case because, what, state, local, and federal marginal tax burden on income no longer exceeds 50% and the percentile as a whole only carries 35% of the federal income tax burden vs earning 19% of the income?). I will happily explain the "phase-out" that will vitiate your mortgage interest deduction the next time you go house-hunting.

As for the coming atomic bomb, call me crazy, but I am going to reserve the right to blame the Islamists for that one. I'm no ethnocentrist, inclined to view everything as a consequence of or reaction to what America does or thinks, and to deny free will and a meaningful interior life to our exotic fellow monotheists of the Middle East. That would be racist! I'll venture so far as to say that the Islamists might still desire to raze Manhattan even if John Kerry should win the presidency. Of course, in that case, we needn't worry, because once the bomb goes off, France will issue condolences, and not sniffily revoke them a few weeks later. That would make it all better.

*I take the term from a classic Toyota-thon ad of the early 1980s. The ad tried to motivate buyers by asking them to imagine all the great stuff they could buy with all the money they "saved" by buying a Toyota at the wonderfully reduced Toyota-thon prices. Buying a Toyota entails spending money, not saving it; one is only saving vs some notional Toyota price. [Ben H.: 9/5/04 16:20]
Gesture of Conciliation

I was going to say "of defeat", but I'm not quite ready to concede Bush the election. What I am ready to do is roll with his victory if it comes. Our household income is already in the top 2% for the U.S.; with a little work (or networking) we can probably push ourselves into the top 1%, where the changes in the tax code will help us the most. I'll enjoy these benefits knowing that the poor saps paying for them chose to do so. Also, I don't personally know any of the black, latino, or poor white families whose sons are being sent off to the Middle East, and my conscience will be further eased because they had their chance to request better treatment, and declined. We'll probably follow Ben H. out of the blast radius of the bomb that Bush will goad the Arabs into detonating in Manhattan, and take advantage of the coming inflation with a mortgage on a place in Brooklyn. It's all good! Oh, and as founding members of the new plutocracy, we'll need a coat of arms to hand down to our children along with their tax-free patrimony. Here it is (I'd be happy to make one for you guys too, since you're also in double-Harvard-income relationships):

[Doug: 9/5/04 12:54]
Solomonic Puzzle

Why does the Times continue to employ Deborah Solomon? The Times publishes a lot of writers for whom I feel distaste. Yet, I can understand why they remain on the staff. It's just that I disagree with their ideology; I have no trouble seeing how someone who shares the Times metropolitan leftism might enjoy reading them. But Solomon is different. Like Ben says, somehow no matter who she interviews -- leftist or rightist -- I tend to come away with sympathy for the subject and loathing for Solomon. Her questions are never revealing about anything except Deborah Solomon's barren interior life. So what's going on? Did she and Dowd dig up some salacious dirt on Sulzberger? [Ben H.: 9/5/04 11:32]
I'm Not Trying to Change the Subject, But...

Deborah Solomon could interview David Duke and I'd end up rooting for the guy. It really is a gift she has. Check out the following, needlessly hostile question to Elizabaeth Edwards:

DS: I was surprised you celebrated your wedding anniversary at Wendy's. Implicitly, you endorsed fast food.

This time, an irritating question generates a revealing reponse:

EE: We didn't mean to endorse it. I go to Wendy's sometimes to get a chili, and I don't know what the fat content is. Fast food has too much fat, and it's too hard to get the information about what you're eating.

Did you catch that? Big Cheeseburger is hiding the facts from customers! The country faces a climactic choice in November. A result that forces John Edwards back to the private sector and we can kiss our tallow-dipped fries good-bye.

[Ben A.: 9/5/04 10:38]
I'm Against Picking Needless Fights, But..
... I can think of a few needful ones that could keep the U.S. busy for a while such that we don't have to resort to invading Tuvalu on account of their horrendously ugly flag. [Ben H.: 9/5/04 09:41]
Not That I Prefer Politics To Baseball, But ...

Just went online and saw the poll numbers. My initial reaction is: if Americans overwhelmingly want to eliminate taxes on capital, and instead to finance their government through inflation and the income tax, who am I to stop them? I only object to screwing average people when they don't explicitly ask to be screwed, and I suppose that with its dual Harvard degrees my own family can acquire enough capital to join the privileged overclass. One problem remains, though, and it's a big one: Bush's foreign policy. Having seen that eternalizing his war pays off politically, he will surely pick needless fights with others. That I cannot abide; and that's why I'll continue to support Kerry. [Doug: 9/5/04 05:21]
How I Miss the 80s!

And it's not just the simplicity of bipolar, Cold War politics. What a wreck the Yankees were back then! You had the doomed Christ figure of Mattingly classing up the joint, but the Bombers were afflicted by the likes of Mel Hall (appearing in the Yankees yearbook at his girlfreind's senior prom), and Dennis Rasmussen as the staff ace. People forget this. The story of how competent leadership seized control and created the Jeter/Rivera hegemony should br taught to schoolchildren in 2100. [Ben A.: 9/4/04 23:11]
20-year Flashback

Having spent my years of most intense baseball fandom following the overpaid, over-the-hill-veteran-heavy, disaster-prone Yankees of the early 80s, I am acutely sensitive to any parallels in today's team. I instinctively suspect big free agent deals and trades of young prospects for older stars. Reading about Kevin Brown's disastrous encounter with the clubhouse wall made my stomach knot up for more than just the obvious reason that our supposed number-one starter enters September with a broken glove-hand. I was taken back over twenty years and in my mind floated the image of another dearly purchased starter, Doyle Alexander. Frustrated at his poor performance, he decided that the culprit was a concrete wall, which he attacked. The wall won, dealing Alexander a broken hand and the Yankees the loss of a key starter.

But that was twenty years ago and a very different Yankee organization. Don't clear out a place for that pennant yet, Ben! [Ben H.: 9/4/04 21:37]
Why I Love Boston; thoughts from 2.5 out

Fenway Park has one of the few hand-operated scoreboards in the big league. When a score changes, there’s a brief moment when the score appears blank before a new placard is put up. The scoreboard is silent, and the scores lines are small. You need to be paying attention to notice.

Well, we pay attention. When the “2” dropped from Baltimore’s line, to be replaced by an emphatic seven, the park went nuts. Sometimes, this town is just great. Deb has already received an inquiry about whether one could really pitch with a “boxer’s fracture” on the glove hand. This is the year.

Addendum: I note the following on the Boston Globe webpage (from “Michael in Los Angeles”) as a suggested Sox 2004 motto:

"Things Looked Bleak Early, But Given Enough Time it was Statistically Probable That We'd Start Winning Games at a Percentage More Closely Linked to our Pythagorean Expectation, and We Have!"

And speaking of Unstoppable Juggernauts, I see Newsweek has just confirmed the Time poll. What a devastating shift. I guess this is what happens when your candidate and convention don’t suck.

In the spirit of fair play, here’s some gratis campaign advice. Kerry must go scorched earth negative, and he must do this immediately. Did Bush knock someone up while “young and irresponsible?” Can operatives find the guy who procured the National Guard slot? Surely he drove drunk more than just once, right? If this doesn’t happen in the next week, I’ll give 2-1 to all comers.
[Ben A.: 9/4/04 20:27]



Ben A.
Ben H.