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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 19 December 2003

Topic: The Economy

Free Trade: How Airplanes Get Purchased

In today's issue Le Figaro looks at the issue of shrimps for Airbuses...

France wants to sell Airbuses to Thailand but Thailand wants to sell its shrimps to Europe.

Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra says Thailand will buy Boeings from America unless the French authorities lobby Brussels to ensure that Thai shrimps are given a better chance in Europe.

An anomaly in trade rules means Thai shrimps face a twelve percent import levy in Europe whereas shrimps from Malaysia can be sold to Europe at only a four percent customs charge.

Bring our shrimps into line with Malaysia's, say the Thais, or we'll buy Boeings.

Boeing is in a bit of a slump. They've got a new plane, but no one much wants that new 7E7 "Dreamliner" thing. This could help.

The article is only available for a fee on the net.

La Tha?lande veut faire voler les crevettes
V?ziane de Vezins, le Fiagro, 19 d?cembre 2003

Am?rique, par exemple et au hasard. Bangkok commandera des escadrilles de Boeing aux Etats-Unis qui, eux, se feront un plaisir d'accueillir ? des tarifs pr?f?rentiels les nu?es de...

As for Saturday's issue, you don't even want to know about this one:

Enqu?te sur l'affaire Halliburton
Eric Decouty, le Fiagro, 20 d?cembre 2003

Pour la premi?re fois en France, une information judiciaire a ?t? ouverte pour ?corruption d'agent public ?tranger?. Elle vise notamment la soci?t? fran?aise Technip et l'am?ricaine Halliburton associ?es dans une op?ration au Nigeria. Une telle enqu?te internationale est possible depuis l'adoption en 1997 de la convention de l'OCDE ?sur la lutte contre la corruption d'agents publics ?trangers dans les n?gociations commerciales?, entr?e en vigueur en droit fran?ais depuis 2000. C'est donc dans ce nouveau cadre juridique que le juge Renaud Van Ruymbeke m?ne ses investigations et que le parquet de Paris envisage la mise en cause de l'actuel vice-pr?sident de Etats-Unis, Richard Cheney, en sa qualit? d'ex-PDG de Halliburton... .

You get the idea.

Posted by Alan at 20:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003 20:59 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Well, he wasn't a very good running back. Now he's left wing.

Former Denver Bronco Reggie Rivers is the host of "Drawing the Line" Wednesdays on KBDI Channel 12, Denver. And his stats were not that impressive.

Now he's doing political commentary.

See We believed because we were scared
Reggie Rivers,The Denver Post, Friday, December 19, 2003

It's the usual:
I was at first stunned and then elated by the images of a defeated, disoriented and disheveled Saddam Hussein submitting to an inspection for lice and having a flashlight shined into his mouth. The picture painted far more than 1,000 words.

But as someone who opposed this war, the capture of Hussein does not distract from the basic issues that need to be examined.

The problem with this war is that President Bush and his staff told a series of deliberate lies and/or gross misrepresentations in order to convince the American people to support military action in Iraq.
Yeah, yeah.

And he trots this out:
If you listen to President Bush today, you'd think that the American people were primarily thinking about poor Iraqis. He's making the case that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" wasn't just a clever name for a war; it was actually the primary mission. The capture of Hussein is proof that it was worthwhile.

But even though Americans are generous, I doubt most citizens would have supported a plan to spend $150 billion and hundreds of American lives if the primary goal was to rescue the Iraqi people.

A year and a half ago, President Bush doubted it, too. That's why he didn't ask us to take this on as a humanitarian effort. Instead, he told us that we had to act because we were in immediate danger.

He argues that we agreed to a war because we were scared to death. And Bush fed that fear.

This is more interesting for the source of the comments. When you've lost the NFL, then Karl Rove should start to worry.

Posted by Alan at 20:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003 19:54 PST home

Topic: The Economy

Face it. You're never going to get rich. This life of yours? You're stuck. Get used to it.
Goodbye, Horatio Alger. And goodbye, American Dream. Really?

Is it true that inequality is getting worse, social mobility is declining, and it's all being helped along by very deliberate policy decisions. I wonder how long it will take before even conservatives admit that it's a real problem?

The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has a column that just appeared in The Nation and is getting a lot of comment. Yes, most on the right consider him a raging, left wing pessimist, full of unwarranted doom and gloom. Maybe so. But he is often insightful, if a bit dour.

See The Death of Horatio Alger
Paul Krugman, The Nation, posted December 18, 2003 [from the January 5, 2004 issue]
The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago.

The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream." The article summarizes recent research showing that social mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains - or even points out what is happening - as a practitioner of "class warfare."
Is this man serious? Can't anyone grow up to be president? George Bush did. Well, maybe he's not a good example. Some say he started out a bit ahead, so to speak.

Krugman of course, being a Yale (or is it Princeton?) economist with his fancy PhD and all his books on economic theory, does review income distribution data. You can click on the link for all the details, but these stuck me:
According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez - confirmed by data from the Congressional Budget Office - between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent. (Those numbers exclude capital gains, so they're not an artifact of the stock-market bubble.)
Well, yes, the rich get richer, but perhaps this has always been so.

And that leads to this:
As a general rule, once they've reached their 30s, people don't move up and down the income ladder very much. Conservatives often cite studies like a 1992 report by Glenn Hubbard, a Treasury official under the elder Bush who later became chief economic adviser to the younger Bush, that purport to show large numbers of Americans moving from low-wage to high-wage jobs during their working lives. But what these studies measure, as the economist Kevin Murphy put it, is mainly "the guy who works in the college bookstore and has a real job by his early 30s." Serious studies that exclude this sort of pseudo-mobility show that inequality in average incomes over long periods isn't much smaller than inequality in annual incomes.
Well drat! If you can't trust the conservatives on economic facts, who can you trust?

Here's Krugman on how this all is playing out, and he sees some "bad guys" of course -
Business Week attributes this to the "Wal-Martization" of the economy, the proliferation of dead-end, low-wage jobs and the disappearance of jobs that provide entry to the middle class. That's surely part of the explanation. But public policy plays a role - and will, if present trends continue, play an even bigger role in the future.

Put it this way: Suppose that you actually liked a caste society, and you were seeking ways to use your control of the government to further entrench the advantages of the haves against the have-nots. What would you do?

One thing you would definitely do is get rid of the estate tax, so that large fortunes can be passed on to the next generation. More broadly, you would seek to reduce tax rates both on corporate profits and on unearned income such as dividends and capital gains, so that those with large accumulated or inherited wealth could more easily accumulate even more. You'd also try to create tax shelters mainly useful for the rich. And more broadly still, you'd try to reduce tax rates on people with high incomes, shifting the burden to the payroll tax and other revenue sources that bear most heavily on people with lower incomes.

Meanwhile, on the spending side, you'd cut back on healthcare for the poor, on the quality of public education and on state aid for higher education. This would make it more difficult for people with low incomes to climb out of their difficulties and acquire the education essential to upward mobility in the modern economy.

And just to close off as many routes to upward mobility as possible, you'd do everything possible to break the power of unions, and you'd privatize government functions so that well-paid civil servants could be replaced with poorly paid private employees.

It all sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it?
Ah, yes it does.

Where is this taking us? Will this eventually create "a class of rentiers in the U.S., whereby a small group of wealthy but untalented children controls vast segments of the US economy and penniless, talented children simply can't compete."

Will we end up suffering not only from injustice, but from a vast waste of human potential, as Krugman fears?

Who cares? I got mine.

Posted by Alan at 11:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003 12:23 PST home

Thursday, 18 December 2003

Topic: Election Notes

Time to pay attention, I suppose. Diebold. Employing convicted felons to assure our votes are counted fairly....

I haven't commented much on the voting machine problems, as most of the country moves toward a uniform, computerized touch-screen system for the next presidential election. Yeah, in Georgia they may have screwed the Democrats out of a senate seat in the last election, as many votes kind of got lost - votes for Max Cleland. Oh well. These Diebold machines cannot be audited and leave no paper trail.

Yeah, I read when Diebold made its sales pitch to the government of Ohio the president of Diebold said he was committed to delivering all the Ohio Electoral Votes to George Bush in the next election - but perhaps he was just being a tad enthusiastic. Diebold wouldn't cheat, would they?

Yeah, out here in California our folks, led by Barbara Boxer, are insisting Diebold alter their machines to provide each voter a receipt, and provide a "paper trail" for the official records. Diebold says that will triple the cost of the machines and cannot be done fast enough for the next election - lots of coding and hardware changes would be necessary. And we're in a bit of a bind out here as the state just today declared a "financial crisis" - no money for all that.

Yeah, I know the Diebold corporation gives major contributions to the national Republican party and many state parties, and no money to the Democrats.

I know all that. But I hadn't paid much attention.

Given all that today I came across this last straw.

Con Job at Diebold Subsidiary
Associated Press 10:05 AM Dec. 17, 2003 PT
SAN FRANCISCO -- At least five convicted felons secured management positions at a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, according to critics demanding more stringent background checks for people responsible for voting machine software.

Voter advocate Bev Harris alleged Tuesday that managers of a subsidiary of Diebold Inc., one of the country's largest voting equipment vendors, included a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records.

The programmer, Jeffrey Dean, wrote and maintained proprietary code used to count hundreds of thousands of votes as senior vice president of Global Election Systems. Diebold purchased GES in January 2002.

According to a public court document released before GES hired him, Dean served time in a Washington state correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files in a scheme that "involved a high degree of sophistication and planning."

Well, one blogger is pretty upset:
What the hell is wrong with this country!?!? Screw Saddam. Screw Michael Jackson and screw every other stinking story the press thinks we should give a flying shit about. There should be no other story more important!!! None! Period. Nothing cuts to the core of our democracy, any democracy, like voting. Voting is democracy! Why did we fight the British for independence? Why did we fight the Nazis? The communists? What the hell have we been shedding blood over if not to defend the right of a free people to choose their own Representative government!?!?

Hello 60 minutes? Hello 20/20? Hello Nightline? Hello anyone??? Sure we can all call Barbra Boxer's office and we can all call our local rep's office and we can all call our state senator but maybe it's time we start a full court press on the press! Have we fallen so far into one party rule that one party control of our voting apparatus just doesn't matter??

Here's a plan. Go here and print out any of the stories. Take a big black marker and hand write WHY IS THIS NOT BEING COVERED?? over it and mail it to every paper in your city. Start sending in letters to editors. Start sending letters to your favorite candidates campaign. Hey DNC: want a talking point? How about PRESERVE DEMOCRACY NOW! If this story can't be taken seriously then nothing else matters! Game over. Pack it up.

If this isn't corrected by the '04 elections then our wildest dreams will be little more than our worst nightmares.

God this story just pisses me off.
Too much coffee? Maybe not.

I should have been paying more attention.

Posted by Alan at 20:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003 21:06 PST home

Topic: The Culture

Film Notes - the third of the Lord of the Rings films: three hours of atavistic classicism, racism and xenophobia... as if the age of reason never happened.

This is worth a read. You might try the whole thing, not just the extracts below.

See The Return of the King: Tolkien and the new medievalism
K.A. Dilday, Open Democracy, 18 - 12 - 2003
The obsession with power, will and hierarchy in Peter Jackson's film trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings fuels its dangerous topicality: a vindication and veneration of empire.

Ah, what have we here?
... We are living in times when the public rhetoric is medieval. Politicians and pundits invoke the words good and evil casually, as if the age of reason never happened. They speak proudly of killing, bullet-ridden corpses are triumphantly paraded. And like in Lord of the Rings, we define evil by demographics. The bloodline, the colour of skin, the ethnic background or nationality makes someone immediately suspect.

Can one judge a film with the morals of politics? Is Lord of the Rings seen differently in the United States than it is in Europe where the majority of people were against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? A fable is "a narration intended to enforce a useful truth." When I look at the Lord of the Rings as the fable its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, intended it to be, I see a world clearly divided into races and regions of leader and followers, I see Calvinist pre-determinism and I see the vindication and veneration of empire unfolding in frame after frame. And I feel the quick burn of shame that I always feel when realising that as a child I was taken in by a "useful truth" that now seems odious.

I can't lay the sole blame for the Lord of the Rings' atavistic classicism, racism and xenophobia with either auteur or author. It was Peter Jackson, the director, who chose his alabaster cast and decided that the camera would lovingly caress their sky-bold eyes. But Tolkien had lived through the horror of the "great war", and he imagined a world where the qualities of leadership were in the blood and where social and moral hierarchy was clearly identifiable through race and appearance. As the spectre of a second world war loomed, it was a soothing reordering of the world with a clear delineation of good and evil. ...

But where's this coming from (beside the UK)?
... in times of war, the definition of culture is loaded with meaning: it is a way of setting your world apart from the enemy's. To be worth dying for, it must be weighty and distinct. In these times are we so consumed by war that all art takes sides, or does art cease to become art once it is political? Theodor Adorno wrote that the genius of art lies in its ability to reveal what ideology conceals.
Oh. That.

But isn't Tolkien a harmless, quite dead linguistics don? Heck, back in graduate school I read his analysis of the language in Beowulf and his comments on the odd Middle English used in The Battle of Maldon - didn't everyone? (Well, maybe not.)

These Lord of the Rings books seem harmless fantasy. Folks like the films. On the other hand Dilday points this out:
The world Tolkien lived in frightened him, and despite his protestations, he transferred his fears and experiences to his secondary world. Middle Earth reflected the deathly struggles he'd seen but he made it much simpler to distinguish good from evil. Elves, humans, hobbits and wizards were good for the most part. Orcs, trolls, and Sauron, the evil genius and lord of Mordor were smelly, ugly, and bad and none could shake their destiny. What was bred in the bone came out in the flesh. ... Tolkien's fusty belief in hierarchy was probably common in 1930s Oxford, but Peter Jackson's energetic interpretation of it in the 2000s is regressive.
Regressive? Okay.

I don't go to movies much anyway.

By the way - Dilday here wonders how the last of the three The Lord of the Rings films is doing in countries that opposed the war, like France. Well, Le Seigneur Des Anneaux : Le Retour Du Roi is doing quite well, thank you. The very mainstream television network and website TF1 polled it viewers - and the film got the highest "ten" rating: "Plus ?pique, plus grandiose, plus fabuleux, plus... Le troisi?me volet de la trilogie r?alis?e par Peter Jackson est enfin sur les ?crans. Une r?elle et r?jouissante r?ussite. Bravo monsieur Jackson !" Click on lower left of this page and you can watch the trailer in French.

Oh, and while there, you can click on Patricia Kaas - O? sont les homes mentioned here a few weeks ago, and listen to a cut from the new album and check out an interview. Or if you're an old fart click on Johnny Hallyday - Je n'ai jamais pleur?.

Ah, but I digress. The The Lord of the Rings films are imperialistic, racist fantasies that play to the fears of frightened xenophobic old white men who are the leaders of the western world, and enflame their mindless, even more fearful followers to go forth and smite the dusky folks.

Perhaps so.

Posted by Alan at 20:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003 20:13 PST home

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