Friday, August 15, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenegger was barely in the California recall campaign when he revealed his earlier support for the anti-immigrant Prop. 187 (a measure since quashed by the courts), alienating Hispanic voters. But that proposition had passed, with 60% of the vote, largely from Anglos, so you could cast support for the measure as an appeal to them.

But it seems that in alienating the voters, Schwarzenegger's campaign aspires to be fair and balanced. In today's Wall Street Journal, Warren Buffett, who has signed on to the campaign as an advisor on economic matters, says taxes -- particularly property taxes -- are too low. He doesn't actually say they should be raised, but the implications are pretty clear. And they won't go down well in California suburbs that still swear by the anti-tax Proposition 13 -- which is the reason that California property taxes are so low -- and particularly not with the Republican state legislators who plunged the state into fiscal crisis by refusing to approve anything that even smelled like a tax increase (sinking the state's bond rating and costing it real money in the process).

I wonder if any of them are starting to think this whole recall thing might have been a bad idea?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Life in Boston:

"Here's the weather report. Today: clear. Tonight: clear. The window's just getting it wrong."

In the time of the Education President, kids are learning that government refuses to raise enough money to pay for their schools.

One response: the Education First JamFest this Saturday in Melrose, MA, organized by students who got some excellent bands on the bill, headed off by the Dresden Dolls, winners of this year's WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble. If you're in the Boston area, it's on the T (take the 136 bus from the Oak Grove station on the Orange Line). What else are you planning to do on Saturday afternoon?

More: Some notes from Calpundit on how Dubya's other education initiatives achieved their fine, statistically accountable results by forcing poorly performing students out of school...

The board of directors at Heinz foods had a problem:

More than half of [CEO William] Johnson's 2003 [compensation] package ? $4.74 million in cash and restricted shares ? was a bonus for last year. That reward did not reflect the performance of Heinz stock, whose price fell about 20 percent during the fiscal year, or about double the decline of its peer group of packaged-foods companies.

The solution? Say it was a bonus for a supposedly lucrative deal involving Del Monte, and then tout the deal:

To buttress their argument, Heinz executives devised a chart for the proxy to show investor enthusiasm for the spinoff. But even though the transaction was not completed until Dec. 20, they chose Oct. 31 as a starting point because, a Heinz spokesman said, that was when investors accepted that the deal would happen. And even though the fiscal year ended in April, they chose June 30 as an end point because, another spokesman said, they wanted to present as up-to-date a picture as possible. During that eight-month stretch, Heinz stock rose 13.8 percent, to $32.98 from $28.97. Had they chosen instead the period from the close of the deal to the end of the fiscal year, the results would have been quite different: during that period, the stock fell 4.8 percent, to $29.88 from $31.40.

A while ago, I had a bit of a tiff with a wingnut who was trying to argue that Dubya brought business values to government. But if the businesses he had in mind were ones like these, he's got a case.

So, the White House has scrapped the idea of putting the Iraq occupation force under UN mandate, which means turning aside troops and cash India, France, Germany and others who had promised assistance, conditioned on a mandate -- and leaving overstretched and overstressed American forces in theater for longer.

American military officials say they fear that involving the United Nations, even indirectly, will hamper the latitude the United States must have in overseeing Iraqi security and pursuing anti-American guerrilla forces or terrorist actions.

They might insist, for example, that the occupation force respect the dignity of the local inhabitants, and not engage in massive sweeps on the basis of flimsy evidence -- tactics which even the American military now admits have fired the resistance that they're supposedly trying to control.

In the meantime, Dubya's crew has set up a meeting of potential donors to help meet the "staggering costs" of the occupation -- just money, not troops. But the same issues of control are likely to arise:

The Bush administration has been reluctant to give the United Nations more than minimal authority in the reconstruction of Iraq. Many administration members say that France, Germany, Russia and other countries demanding such a role are actually doing so to try to get more contracts and economic benefits for themselves.

They aren't supposed to try to get plum contracts for themselves in Iraq, on everything from cell phones to oil field management -- those are reserved for us. Don't they understand that?

Besides, it would be bad diplomacy, as the usual anonymous sources explain:

In effect, administration officials now say, such a resolution would be more trouble than it is worth. Soundings among members of the Security Council indicated that Russia, France and other countries might try for concessions favorable to them in the running of Iraq, and such demands would only deepen divisions between them and the United States.

"The last thing we need is a loss of momentum over the efforts to get things under control in Iraq," said a Western diplomat involved in these discussions. "Besides, the violence in Iraq is not as bad as everyone thinks it is."

The Times' editorial today, headlined "White House Fantasies on Iraq", is surely the work of librul alarmists.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

It seems that Democrats aren't the only people who think that the California recall frenzy shouldn't be diverting all the public's attention from the upcoming Presidential race:

Bush pointedly questioned why Schwarzenegger had become the biggest political story in the nation, overshadowing his own presidential race.

"It is the biggest political story in the country? That's interesting. That says a lot. That speaks volumes," Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch. "Oh, I think there's maybe other political stories. Isn't there, like a presidential race coming up? Maybe that says something."

He finally says something that liberals can agree with, and what does he get from them? Mockery. And from someone claiming to be fair and balanced, too. The shame of it!

Yes, this is sarcasm...

Libertarians who feel oppressed by America's high tax rates, your paradise awaits! Consider Thailand:

[Somchai] is a successful businessman of Chinese extraction who owns some (legal) language schools as well as shares in an illegal casino, and regularly pays bribes to the police in relation to both businesses. He calls it "the system" and looks at me with disdain when I express sympathy for his plight. Somchai, you see, pays almost no taxes, gets work permits for his English teachers without difficulty, and makes a nice fat profit from his casino interest. The way he sees it, the Thai system is more efficient than ours: no expensive army of bureaucrats to cast a shadow between investment and profit. Police bribes amount to less than 10 percent of his income. How much tax would he pay in a Western country? Thirty, 40, 50 percent?

Also featured, law enforcement by bicycle-riding contract killers, who are expected to shortly resolve a dispute between some tenant businesses, who had binding leases, and their landlord, who bribed the army to bulldoze them and the police to look the other way. So much more final than American civil litigation. Jump in! You'll love it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Remember a few weeks ago, when the Transportation Security Administration was roundly criticized for pulling air marshalls off some of the most vulnerable flights to cut hotel costs? Well, the brass there wants to make sure nothing like that ever happens again:

The Transportation Security Administration is conducting a “witch hunt” to ferret out and discipline employees in the federal air marshal program who have talked to the media, several sources within the program told Some air marshals are even being threatened with having the USA Patriot Act, a law enacted to help fight terrorism, used against them.

Good thing those whiners don't have full civil service protections, or the next time citizens are being endangered by boneheaded bureaucrats, some of them might be tempted to spout off again...

via TalkLeft

Charlie Stross:

It's so hot in continental Europe right now that people are dying like flies in Paris...

Meanwhile, could this be the beginning of the shutdown of the Atlantic cold water conveyor system that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute warms could trigger a new ice age?

Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Julian Dibbell wrote an article about people who were making a real-world living selling imaginary goods -- or, more precisely, goods which exist only in the computers which simulate Britannia, the world of the role-playing game Ultima Online. Upon further reflection, he decided that sounded like more fun than trying to make a living as a professional writer, so he's trying instead to make the trade in imaginary artifacts his primary source of income.

The new job is landing him in some peculiar ethical dilemnas, as in this case, where he figured out that a high level in-game thief (a character class set up by the game's designers) was trying to convert his in-game thieving skills into real-world cash, using Dibbell as a fence. At a loss for direction, he consulted a more experienced dealer, who he calls Mr. Big, who advised:

Well - to be honest - stealing in game is not unethical to me. Rogue/theif is a player skill - so I would have no problem with that. Now, if it involved real life theft - real money or out of game scamming - that is a totally different story. But using stealth/stealing in game is totally acceptable in my mind.

Thus fortified by the moral distinction between real-world and play-world theft, Dibbell closed the deal. Of course, the money he gets paid these days, by electronic transfer, is barely more tangible than the clothes, castles, and magical artifacts he trades for it...

Found via BoingBoing's link to another post, which among other things, worries about the decline in on-line sales. I suppose it could be something within Britannia itself, or, say, currency manipulation, but it's also possible that the jobless recovery in the United States is starting to spill over into Britannia...

Yesterday, I noted in fine print that community pressures seemed to be keeping Daniel Davies from giving communitarian Amitai Etzioni the thrashing he deserved on Crooked Timber, his communal blog. It seems some other Crooked Timber workers aren't so inhibited.

Today, Kieran Healey takes Etzioni to task for a truly bizarre post which seems to blame the baleful influence of The Matrix (yes, the movie) for several murders, because the murderers either liked the movie, or thought they were living in it.

Etzioni may not have noticed the rash of abortion clinic bombers, homicidal gay bashers, violent "Christian Identity" racists, and other assorted nuts who use the Christian bible as justification for violent crime. Clearly this is a work deserving of censure, at the very least...

More unjustified prosecution of America's fine, upstanding corporate citizens:

Dr. Campbell, an internist, first suspected trouble in Redding Medical Center's cardiology program soon after joining the hospital in 1993, according to papers obtained by federal investigators. That year, one of his patients underwent open-heart surgery even after the surgeon told Dr. Campbell the procedure was unnecessary. Two years later, another patient received a coronary bypass, though the cardiologist's report said it was not necessary.

Then there were the numbers -- tens of thousands of diagnostic tests, thousands of surgical coronary procedures. The totals seemed more likely for a major university medical center than for a hospital in a rural community of about 90,000 people.

Dismayed, Dr. Campbell brought his concerns to Stephen E. Corbeil, the hospital's chief executive at the time. Though Dr. Campbell declined to comment on the meeting and Mr. Corbeil did not return telephone calls, the papers obtained by federal investigators indicate that the administrator's response was succinct: The young internist, he said, should mind his own business.

Ultimately, Dr. Campbell's concern proved to be everyone's business. Last week, the hospital's owner, Tenet Healthcare, agreed to pay $54 million to the government to resolve accusations that Redding Medical doctors conducted unnecessary heart procedures and operations on hundreds of healthy patients. Tenet did not admit any wrongdoing and agreed to cooperate with further investigations.

Note that they denied any wrongdoing. Surely, pace the arguments here, this is a sign that the government has nothing, absolutely nothing, and knows it. Another sad case of government regulation run amok.

Monday, August 11, 2003

After the success of the national do-not-call list, to restrain telemarketers, there's talk of a similar no-spam list. So, lobbyists on Capitol Hill are pointing up vital differences between telemarketing and spam:

The direct marketers and their allies like Microsoft and AOL object strongly to a do-not-spam list. Spam is different from telephone marketing, they say, because such a list would be expensive to administer and could be vulnerable to computer hackers.

Which is all very different from the do-not-call list. You see, it can't just be a list of digits, it would also have letters and even those funny-looking '@' things.

More important, it would most likely restrict the sale of credit cards and DVD clubs by mainstream companies as much as miracle pills and get-rich-quick schemes from online hucksters.

Of course, credit card companies and DVD clubs never used telemarketing. And there's more:

"Phone numbers are typically published in directories, so there is no mystery about what they are,'` said Ira S. Rubinstein, an associate general counsel at Microsoft, which runs the big Hotmail e-mail service. "People go to great lengths to keep their e-mail addresses private..."

Indeed. Who ever heard of an unlisted telephone number?

To be fair, the article points out at least one legitimate issue -- with spammers already going overseas, and even using trojan horse attacks to turn home PCs into spam relays, it's not clear that the more objectionable ones would care about a do-not-spam list, though as Chuck Schumer points out, it would at least put cases against them on a firm legal basis...

For a while, I've been trying to figure out how to explain why Amitai Etzioni's brand of communitarianism gives me the creeps. Fortunately, Daniel Davies has saved me the trouble:

I seem to remember from university days that "communitarianism" as set out in Mulhall and Swift's textbook "Liberals and Communitarians", was sort of a last gasp of the academic soft left at preserving a space for a normal welfare state from the attacks of Nozickian libertarians on one flank and the Scruton-Taylor-MacIntyre axis of conservatism on the other. It was sort of appealing to me then in a faut de mieux kind of way. But I was always suspicious of it, not least because I happened to grow up in one of the small idealised in-and-out-of-each-others'-doors "communities" that the communitarian theorists went on about, and thus knew that it was bloody horrible. Communitarianism always had a nasty authoritarian streak (lots of people would consider Macintyre and Taylor to be communitarians) and in Etzioni, that illiberality seems to reach a point of equilibrium.

Which is not to say he's an actual authoritarian; that's not true. But he's in favour of "civil liberties" which roughly translates as a staunch defender of the freedom to live an utterly conventional life. Someone who appears to regard the warnings against the stifling effect on liberty of social stigma in Mill's "On Liberty" as an instruction manual. Basically, if you think of a headmaster's lecture on how he's not angry, but very disappointed, at the way in which some unruly elements have chosen to take advantage of his good nature and spoil it for everyone? Etzioni has turned that into a political philosophy. He's certainly not evil, just extremely irritating, and far, far too keen on telling other people what they ought to be doing.

Which is about how I react to the various attempts I've seen (here's the latest) to define some sort of "blogger's code of ethics". For instance, it's one thing to say that, say, "hat-tipping" to the blog where you found something is good manners and will win you friends. It's another to say that just posting a quick squib to the ultimate source is somehow "unethical" -- which carries the implication that if you got something off a blog, but lose track of which (as occasionally happens to me) your only "ethical" course of action is to refrain from posting it entirely. How is the "community" served by that?

As a sidelight on the whole "community" issue, it's interesting to note that D-squared didn't feel comfortable posting this on crooked timber, the mostly-academic group blog that he's joined lately, because some of the people there take Etzioni much more seriously than he does. Which shows how community pressures can stifle useful discussion -- well, I think it's useful, anyway. I've thought occasionally about trying to set up or join some sort of a group blog, but so far, it's worries about things like this which have kept me solo. Though I have a feeling that any group blog I felt comfortable joining would wind up being the electronic equivalent of Mycroft Holmes's Diogenes club, which would ease the whole question of social pressures somewhat...

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Somehow, the news that Dubya's defense department was, apparently, scheming against State with their old Iran-Contra crony from the Reagan administration, Manucher Ghorbanifar -- with the apparent intent to undermine negotiations towards joint action against al-Qaeda (you know, the folks that attacked us) -- has kind of taken it out of me. It's not even clear what to make of it. But if I was inclined, I might write something like this...

More: Jim Henley thinks he saw this coming. Well, either that, or Dubya's crowd outran his feeble attempts at satire...

Best protest sign I've seen yet this week: in Harvard Square, on the subway kiosk, a sheet with a picture of the Statue of Liberty in an electric chair, and the words "Bush lies, freedom fries".