Man Without Qualities


Saturday, November 29, 2003


The Parrot

A friend e-mails this Thanksgiving story:

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.

John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder.

John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.

Then suddenly there was total quiet.

Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior."

John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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Thursday, November 27, 2003


Trumped Again

Hillary Clinton and Senator Reed go to Iraq and Afghanistan for Thanksgiving!

The former first lady and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., have both been critical of the administration's handling of post-combat problems in the war on terrorism, particularly after major military operations ended in Iraq.

Surprise!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Employment Survey Disparity Grows

The Man Without Qualities has in the past noted the curious divergence of the two main forms of employment measurement: payroll survey employment and household survey employment. Each is tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics - and recently they have increasingly and substantially diverged. The reasons for the divergence are not well understood.

The Senate Joint Economic Committee has issued some very interesting releases on the topic. The latest SJEC release includes the following, among other interesting things:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey continues to show greater job gains than the payroll survey. In October, for example, the household survey estimated that the number of employed people increased by 441,000; with that increase, employment now exceeds its level at the start of the recession. The disparity between the household and payroll surveys began as the economy emerged from the recession at the end of 2001; it has now grown to be the largest such disparity in the history of the two surveys. Growing self-employment, which is captured in the household survey but not the payroll, explains some of the disparity, but the bulk of the disparity remains as yet unexplained.
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They’re Not Fighting Over Religion, Are They?

Some interesting thoughts on the long term course of Ulster politics.

I pass these along, without endorsement or condemnation.

MORE

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003


A Form of Looting

"What we have here is a form of looting." So Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman quotes George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate in economics, as saying about the Bush administration's budget.

But it could more accurately be said of Herr Doktorprofessor's own column because he's busy looting the reputations and accumulated good will of Princeton University, the John Bates Clark Medal and even the New York Times itself. Kaiser Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman's new clothes all belong to somebody else. But that doesn't stop him from willfully wearing them out.

Writing erratically in the Boston Globe, Alex Beam argues:

A columnist has two solemn duties, to make provocative arguments and to get read. New York Times scribbler Krugman scores in the top percentile on both counts. He may be the best in the business right now -- he also has a day job, as a distinguished economics professor at Princeton -- and I think a visit from Mr. P., as in Pulitzer, is only a matter of time.

But what Mr. Beam fails to note is that for most columnists being a columnist is the day job. That means that their arguments have to stand on their own and not rely on the crutch of the columnist's academic credentials. For example, unlike so many Paul Krugman efforts, David Brooks' charming column today on all that Americans have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving does not leave the reader with this kind of Krugmaniacal dare:

Sure what I'm writing and you've just read is tendentious, unsupported, obviously incomplete and completely crackers. But I'm a professor at Princeton and a holder of a fancy economics prize. SO WHAT I SAY GOES!

Paul Krugman can - and often does - satisfy his two solemn duties, to make provocative arguments and to get read simply by making statements so bizarre, tendentious and unsupported that an aware reader simply cannot believe a Princeton professor and John Bates Clark Medal holder would do it - such as the howler Herr Doktorprofessor committed at the end of July when he asserted, one month into the third quarter for which the GDP growth rate is now known to have been 8.2%, that There is very little evidence in the data for a strong recovery ready to break out. Herr Doktorprofessor made his assertion while other economists - including Steve Antler - were quietly showing that the evidence existed in abundance.

Mr. Beam should give it a try. Let him write a column with some typically crackers Krugmaniacal viewpoint. Maybe something circulating around a bold assertion such as:

Notwithstanding the Bush Administration's fraudulently positive economic data now regularly released by the completely corrupted Treasury Department, there has been no true economic recovery in this country - and those evanescent positive developments that have been manipulated into existence by the Administration are all timed by the incompetent-but-omnipotent George Bush (or, rather, by the handlers of this empty sock puppet) to blow the country completely apart shortly after the November 2004 election.

That's certainly a provocative argument and Mr. Beam's column would probably get read if it got past his editors. But he would probably not be allowed to write any more columns for the Globe because the Globe and its readers would know right away that he's completely crackers. They would know that because Mr. Beam isn't trafficking in Princeton's reputation - or any other entity's reputation.

So if Mr. P. does think about visiting Herr Doktorprofessor, I hope Mr. P will keep in mind that other columnists who might be given that Pulitzer don't have the benefit of cashing checks drawn on the bank accounts of Princeton University, the John Bates Clark Medal and the New York Times itself to satisfy those two solemn duties, to make provocative arguments and to get read.
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The Real News

Much of the financial media is a-twitter with this story:

Gross domestic product, a measure of all the goods and services produced in the U.S., was revised to an 8.2% annual rate for the third quarter, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. That was a full percentage point higher than an earlier 7.2% estimate and even higher than the strong 8% growth economists had forecast for the latest reading, according to a survey by CNBC and Dow Jones.

Well, people have different ideas about what the real story in today's news is:

"Forget about GDP, the story is profits," said John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Securities. After-tax profits increased at a 10.6% annual rate in the third quarter, after falling 5% in the second quarter. Corporate profits with inventory valuation and depreciation -- the concept closest to company-reported profits -- rose 30% from a year earlier. Nonfinancial corporate profits surged an annualized 70%. That helped propel business spending to its strongest showing in three years.

Of course, to the Brad Delongs, Paul Krugmans and others of that fungible mass, a quarter of GDP growth is hardly a story at all. The real story is employment - and by that (with pining nostalgia) they mean payroll employment, not household employment.

For example, Brad Delong linked to this article, but his emphasis is not that the economy has finally been launched on a sustainable recovery that will help make this holiday season the best retailers have seen in years. No, no, no... Professor Delong cuts most of that out. His emphasis is on the article's report that the ... forecasting panel predicting the jobless rate will average 5.8 percent in 2004, down from 6 percent currently. The forecasting panel saw payroll employment rising by 1.1 percent, or about 1.3 million workers, not enough to replace the 2.3 million jobs that have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001. That the 2.3 million jobs were "lost" only in comparision to an employment bubble created at the end of the Clintonian era is not worth a mention by the Good Professor.

Consumer confidence and spending numbers are also in:

"Consumer confidence is now at its highest level since the fall of 2002," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "The improvement in the present-situation index, especially in the jobs component, suggests that consumers believe a slow but sure labor market turnaround is underway." ... Consumer spending rose at a 6.4% annual rate, driven by federal government tax cuts and low interest rates. It was the strongest quarterly spending since 1997. The figure was initially estimated at 6.6%.

Previous softness of such things had caused the Good Professor to quiver: That's a big enough piece of bad news to cause me to take a full percentage point off my personal estimate of the fourth quarter GDP growth rate...

But as of 10:45 am, the time of this posting, the Good Professor had not a word of revision or comment. But Perhaps he's in some kind of shock. [And, on a lighter note, the substanceless rantings at Eschaton again pay no heed to the new economic numbers. Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman is busy with confabulatory word games concerning his political hate speech that amount to nothing more or less than an implication of bias in the New York Times coverage of him (including its patently obvious observation that the little mustache Herr Doktotprofessor's British publisher placed on Vice President Cheney with no objection from Herr Doktorprofessor was Hitleresque) and an infantile "mommy, the Republicans did it first" defense of his own excesses. The KCI Index was also revised strongly upwards. Poor kitty. Note: The [KCI] index is, in keeping with Krugman's methodology, measured in vague, fluid units that don't necessarily correspond with specific real-world methods of measurement. ]

The growth in profits is very important to employment expectations, and not just because employers are more willing to hire when profits turn up strongly. Strong profit growth tends to produce employment effects which are not squarely accounted for in many standard economic models, and that is especially true given the economy's current trend towards non-standard "employment" relationships (an obvious trend with a significance willfully ignored by bad economists such as Krugman and Delong, perhaps because of political bias and perhaps because they are intellectual dinosaurs). My guess is that near-term employment numbers will be much stronger than the published consensus - and that the economy is well on its way to an unemployment rate much lower than 5.8%.

UPDATE:

A weird Boston Globe column by Alex Beam makes the additional patently obvious observations that Paul Krugman is completely crackers, that Herr Doktorprofessor's personal web site (http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~pkrugman) is a nutty, score-settling tote board where he fires his rhetorical blunderbuss, and that Herr Doktorprofessor considers his critics to be nonentities, including Taranto (Who bravely clings to his "entity" status. We are with you, James!) at Opinion Journal (hazily identified by the Globe as the Wall Street Journal Online), Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and others.

Yes, yes. That's all completely true as far as it goes. And the Globe's ownership by the Times is yet more indication that somebody at the Times is getting impatient with Herr Doktorprofessor's rantings - although, as Don Luskin correctly points out, the tenor of the Globe's criticism seems more along the lines of trying to get Herr Doktorprofessor to stop all the extracurricular activities that make it so obvious that he's completely crackers.

And here, at least, the Globe is right to that extent. Imagine if Maureen Dowd had such a personal website? She wisely keeps her rantings confined to the Times' Op-Ed pages, where her trainers/handlers/editors can intervene if the need arises.

But Paul Krugman has increasingly put the Times in a position too much like that of Roy Horn - who is at this very moment left to ponder whether his nearly-fatal injuries were the results of his exotic pet's deliberate attack or mere confusion. And so it is with the Times and its exotic pet.

FURTHER UPDATE: Mr. Beam at the Globe thinks that a visit from Mr. P., as in Pulitzer, is only a matter of time for Herr Doktorprofessor. Mickey Kaus agrees! Of course, that doesn't matter, because he's a non-entity. But Mr. P isn't likely to call unless the Times management lobbies hard for the visit. Is Mr. Beam making that point, too, for Herr Doktorprofessor's benefit?

ANOTHER UPDATE: By 10:30 pm, various things - including the recently released Two Towers DVD and an Economist excerpt suggesting that investors sense a chill beneath the warm glow of the numbers - had warranted posts from Good Professor Delong. But not the revised 8.2% GDP growth rate - the number that's currently giving off the warmest glow.

Delong's desire to call attention to the chill beneath the warm glow of the numbers while seeking to avoid discussion or admission of some of the most important numbers looks rather like Prince Charles' spokesman's attempt to quash reports of "the incident" without actually saying what the alleged "incident" was supposed to be. But it may be deduced from Brad Delong's vigorous attempt to not mention those numbers giving off that misleading glow that the supposed numbers involved the economy and that they were not, say, boating race results.

MORE

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Monday, November 24, 2003


Games

Today, Illinois law provides that George W. Bush's name will not be on that state's general election ballot next November. because the Republican convention in New York City occurs after the deadline to get on the Illinois ballot. An attempt to fix the situation was voted down in the Illinois Senate when Democrats added provisions to the bill that would have wiped out campaign fines that may be levied against state politicians.

In 2000 John McCain went before U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman, who ruled New York's ballot access laws were too restrictive and violated McCain’s constitutional right to run in the primaries. All parties agreed that not only McCain but also Alan Keyes were to be on the ballot in all 31 congressional districts in the state.

That decision had lots of political support.

Is it time for a trip to federal court in Illinois?






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The Astroturf Never Looks As Tasty On The Other Side Of The Fence

Baseball Crank says that Josh Marshall finds no problem with liberals grazing on their own flavor of political astroturf.

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Sunday, November 23, 2003


The Times on That Mustache

The New York Times admits it:

Unlike the relatively staid cover of the American edition published by W. W. Norton, the British book jacket bears caricatures of President Bush as Frankenstein-like and Vice President Dick Cheney with a Hitler mustache. A dark scrawl on the vice president's forehead reads, "Got Oil?"

Does this mean the Man Without Qualities convinced the Times that the "Got Milk?" dodge was just that - and failed to mask the British publisher's rather obvious actual intent and objective meaning?

Herr Doktorprofessor himself is delightfully evasive:

Mr. Krugman, for his part, said he did not remember seeing the cover until prepublication copies were sent to reviewers. "I think it was intended to be ironic."

Herr Doktorprofessor's response seems crafted to meet an expected revelation that he was, in fact, sent a copy of the cover long before he received a "prepublication copy" - hardly itself a well-defined term. It is common for publication contracts of writers like Paul Krugman to include at least limited reasonable approval rights on book covers - together with a clause providing that failure to object in a set period (two weeks? three days?) after receiving approval copy constitutes deemed approval. If his contract is of this sort, then his failure to object was deemed approval of the cover.

And Herr Doktorprofessor's other comments suggest that he actually did have such rights and opportunity to object:

"It is a marketing thing, not a statement," he said. "I should have taken a look at that and said, `What are you doing marketing me as if I am Michael Moore? This is silly.' " Incivility is one thing, he said, but the book cover "may be undignified, which would be a reason to object."

But how could Herr Doktorprofessor have "taken a look at the book cover" and said anything if he didn't receive and review a copy of the book cover in advance? And how could he have said "What are you doing marketing me as if I am Michael Moore? This is silly," unless he has some right to disapprove it? He sure makes it sound as though he did receive an advance copy of the cover, didn't object to it and was therefore deemed to have approved it under his contract, but had a reason to object to the cover under his contract because the cover is "undignified."

Depicting the Vice President of the United States as Hitler is no laughing matter. But Herr Doktorprofessor's I do not remember seeing the cover defense is just hilarious baloney. The man's a natural - a comic genius!

UPDATE: Don Luskin has more.

FURTHER UPDATE: "Bobby," who runs the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive is in a sad but frantic dither:

Also, contrary to what David Kirkpatrick (whose NYT story looks like a cut-and-paste job from an RNC press release) and Gollum Luskin say (I'm going to ween myself off of linking to his vile site), that picture of Cheney on the U.K. cover (below) is *NOT* comparing Cheney to Hitler. ... This is a picture of Cheney with an oil mustache, like in the "Got Milk" commercials (it says, "Got Oil?" on his forehead and the oil is dribbling out of his mouth) -- so the Cheney picture is political satire regarding Cheney's very very close ties to Halliburton and big oil. ... The oil mustache is far too wide and covers far too much of Cheney's upper lip to be a Hitler mustache, which would cover only the middle of the upper lip.

But Bobby should please calm down. The Times is fully aware of that "Got Oil?" - Got Milk?" dodge - it was fully vetted. The Times reporter has heard the argument and rejected it, maybe because the "Got Milk?" campaign never ran in Britain - as suggested here. The mustache is seen as being like Hitler's by most people - and it's pretty obvious that the British pubilsher intended that. That there is a "Got Milk?" allusion in the image is completely consistent with it also being a Hitleresque mustache.

Perhaps if Bobby asked nicely, Herr Doktorprofessor would tell Bobby whether Herr Doktorprofessor's book contract gives him approval rights on the cover and whether the British publisher actually sent Herr Doktorprofessor a preview of the cover for approval - regardless of whether Herr Doktorprofessor "remembers" seeing it.

Bobby also shouldn't worry about the Times taking its articles from the RNC by cut and paste. Paul Krugman is a Times columnist. The Times is not out to "get" its own columnist. The Times acknowledged the Hitler allusion because it's obviously correct, and to deny it would have made the Times look naive and tendentious past the point where even the Times is willing to go.

There is one factor I can think of that might suggest that the Times was a bit miffed with Herr Doktorprofessor here. Reports are that the Times had no veto right over the cover. If that is so, then the Gray Lady was trusting Herr Doktorprofessor not to embarrass her - and he let her down pretty badly. Perhaps the Times article reflects some sense of betrayal on the Gray Lady's part. After all, sometimes it's just not worth it to the Gray Lady to deny or ignore warts on those in her favor - such as her erratic columnists - especially when they fail to look out for her. Herr Doktorprofessor's betrayal of his employer's trust is something entirely within his control - so any retribution on the Times part (if there is any in this article) is nothing for Bobby to worry about.

But Bobby should be concerned about whether he's contracting some of Herr Doktorprofessor's trademark paranoia.

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Saturday, November 22, 2003


Gallup Poll - Greatest President

"Who do you regard as the greatest United States president?"

...........................................................11/03................................2/99
...............................................................%.....................................%
John Kennedy.........................................17....................................12
Abraham Lincoln.....................................17....................................18
Ronald Reagan........................................13....................................12
Franklin Roosevelt...................................11.....................................9
Bill Clinton.................................................9.....................................12
George Washington..................................7.....................................12

How important is it that the first three presidents on this list were the victims of successful or unsuccessful assassination attempts? ("Victims" in the sense of serious physical harm. An astute reader e-mails that all of these presidents were targets of assassination attempts - in Washington's case, during the Revolutionary War, before he became president. )

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Friday, November 21, 2003


Kudos And Congrats

To David Hogberg, cornfield blogger extraordinaire.
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Carnage In Istanbul

The photos tell a lot.


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Thursday, November 20, 2003


Such Setbacks III

The recent controversial ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts dealing a setback to traditional marriage appears to conflict directly with the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In 1996 Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act, which provides, "No state shall be required to give effect" to a marriage "between persons of the same sex."

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to deny homosexual couples the "benefits and protections that flow from marriage" but did not say gays must be allowed to marry. The Vermont Legislature created "civil unions" to give similar rights and responsibilities to gay couples, an idea that has been adopted in California and elsewhere.

But in its recent controversial ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts said nothing about civil unions. Instead, that court declared that Massachusetts may not exclude "qualified same-sex couples from access to civil marriage." "[B]arring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution," the state court said in its 4-3 ruling. It gave the state 180 days to comply.

That holding seems to directly conflict with the federal law.

But is the Defense of Marriage Act Constitutional? And, if not, could it be made Constitutional? Recent United States Supreme Court decisions limiting the sweep of the Commerce Clause prevent an easy answer in the form of an appeal to that particular Congressional power.

The very features of this Massachusetts holding that could give it a national impact could also validate the Defense of Marriage Act and therefore overturn the holding. Specifically, couples who wed in Boston are married just the same in every other state - immediately while the couple lives in Boston and later if they move to Los Angeles. Arguably, that's because under the "full faith and credit" principle of the U.S. Constitution, judicial decisions - and therefore valid contracts - made in one state are automatically honored in another. The Defense of Marriage Act is intended to head off the possibility of a "full faith and credit" extension of decisions such as the one in Massachusetts by declaring as a matter of federal law that same-sex marriage is an invalid contract that would not be honored even in Massachusetts. If the "full faith and credit" argument is right, then the Massachusetts decision would automatically have a huge effect on "interstate commerce" - which allows Congress to legislate on the matter, and validates the Defense of Marriage Act and overturns the Massachusetts holding. Got that? But none of this reasoning has been accepted or tried - the issue has never before come up.

Interestingly, if the Supreme Court had not overturned its own decision in National League of Cities v. Usery, that case might have prohibited Congress from legislating on marriage through the Commerce Clause because marriage is traditionally a state exclusive. But that's so much history.

Congress also has the right to enforce 14th Amendment rights - but recent United States Supreme Court cases have held that Congress can't create or define rights under the 14th Amendent, as the Court held the Congress had tried to do with its statute "restoring" putative First Amendment religious liberties the Court had held were not, in fact, included in the First Amendment.

Some people say they think that the Defense of Marriage Act is Constitutional as written: "I disagree with the [Massachusetts] decision," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). "I believe that the Defense of Marriage Act we passed in the Congress is constitutional, and I think that will be borne out."

Why is Tom Daschle saying such things? Aren't the members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court who voted for this decision just the kind of people he's demanding that the President put on the federal courts? Of course they are! Isn't this the kind of activist, fashion-forward decision most Democratic Senators want courts to make? Of course it is! Tom Daschle has spent years working to move the federal courts in just the same direction as this Massachusetts court. His statement is completely inconsistent with his career of actions. The image of Senator Daschle repudiating a state court decision in which the overwhelming majority of the people he desires to put on the federal courts would heartily concur is exquisite.

But Tom Daschle wants to extend that career - and he is up for re-election next year in South Dakota, a pretty conservative state on such matters. He relies on presenting himself as quite a different person to his South Dakota suckers (er, I mean constituents) than the person who flashes by under the Capitol Dome in those expensive suits. [How many suits does Senator Daschle own that could never be worn in South Dakota, in any circumstances or on any occassion, without his being hopelessly overdressed? More than a few, from his Washington television appearances.] And he's already got lots of other problems - including from his suggesting that President Bush knew a lot about the planned 9-11 attacks (an accusation the Senator later retracted and denied having made).

All of which - and so much more - makes the suggestion in this Adam Nagourney article from the New York Times a real hoot to the extent it suggests that the Massachusetts decision is also a 2004 problem for Republicans. Coccooning? Mr. Nagourney has sealed himself in a huge granite pyramid.
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If Leading Indicators Go Up And Jobless Claims Dip, But The Media Pay Little Attention...

... does it all have a political impact anyway?

Yes. But the ever-more-willfully coccooning mainstream media will be the last to know. A few weeks ago, when the economic news was bad - or, rather, when the mainstream media thought the news was was bad - it appeared in the front page headlines many days. Not now. Now we're lucky if the news shows up on the front of the business section.

In today's under-reported news from the Associated Press (news for which the New York Times, for example, has no space - even on its Business Page - because it's busy running articles on currency trading fraud and a $13 million mutual fund irregularity - yes, that is million, not billion):

The Conference Board reported that its closely watched Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 0.4 percent in October, suggesting stronger economic activity in the coming year.

The Labor Department said that for the week ending Nov. 15, new claims for jobless benefits declined by a seasonally adjusted 15,000 to 355,000. For seven straight weeks claims have been below the 400,000 mark, suggesting that the job market is turning a corner. Fewer than 400,000 new claims is generally thought to lead to a lower unemployment rate, and 355,000 is for these purposes well below 400,000. Also, the 355,000 number was stronger than the forecast fall to 366,000 - a fact that the AP itself does not even bother to report (but you can find in the Financial Times, or the Wall Street Journal, for example).

The October rise in the Conference Board index was twice the 0.2 percent increase most analysts had been forecasting. The upticks in the employment news and the Conference Board index continue a recent string of forecasts that have proved to be less optimistic than the economy's actual results. The U.S. economy is estimated to have grown at a 7.2 % annual rate in the third quarter of this year, and most economists believe growth will be a respectable 4 percent in the October-December period. But in the third quarter unexpectedly depleted and unrestored inventories knocked quite a bit off that 7.2% growth rate. If inventories had been restored, the estimated rate of third quarter growth would have about 8.1%. I wouldn't take that 4% fourth quarter forecast too seriously just yet.

"There's been a steady stream — rather than a trickle — of good news," said Tim O'Neill, chief economist for the Bank of Montreal and Harris Bank in Chicago. "We're probably headed toward a torrent over the next few months."

In which case perhaps the mainstream media can choose to ignore the torrent on the theory that it's not "news" because its become just more of the same.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003


About That Mustache

With respect to the bizarrely anti-American cover of the UK edition of Paul Krugman's book, Mickey Kaus notes this about the little mustache painted on Dick Cheney's face:

Alert kf readers have pointed out it's almost certainly not a Hitler mustache, but rather a parody of the "Got Milk?" mustache. [Duh!-ed]

Really? If it is a parody of the "Got Milk?" mustache, then it seems to be one of the stranger publishing decisions recently made anywhere in the world.

The National Milk Mustache "got milk?"® Campaign is jointly funded by America's milk processors and dairy farmers: the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) in Washington, D.C., and Dairy Management Inc., Chicago. The tagline "got milk?"® was created for the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and is licensed by the national milk processor and dairy producer groups.

There is no mention on the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) site of any use of the "Got Milk?" campaign in Europe, nor is there such a mention on the IDFA International page. Nor is there mention on the CMPB news site of any use of the "Got Milk?" campaign outside the United States. The UK Dairy Council site doesn't mention a "got milk?" campaign - and using its "keyword search" button to search for "got milk?" or "got milk" comes up dry. It is possible that there has been European use of this campaign, but it is not mentioned by these organizations - but that seems odd.

So why use a "Got Milk mustache" on Cheney in the UK - but not the US - edition of a book? How are Europeans supposed to understand that image if they've never been exposed to the ads? Won't they assume it's a Hitler mustache anyway - since that they've seen?

Or, just maybe, the mustache featured on the Krugman book jacket is supposed to be the kind of mustache germanic professors used to wear around the university? The kind the students respectfully called Herr Doktorprofessor - at least to their faces?

UPDATE: One clever e-mailing wag points out that in this case it's really Hair Doktorprofessor. And, if I'm right in this hirsuit encounter, could that [Duh!-ed] Mickey got count as The Case Against Editors, Part III ...? Just asking.

FURTHER UPDATE: An astute e-mailer points out that Cheney's image comes from a "Got Oil?" poster by adbusters.org. But the Man Without Qualities has neither received nor discovered evidence that the "Got Milk?" campaign was used anywhere in Europe - including Britain. My e-mailers suggestion that the image may be familiar to British people anyway, since it's so famous in the US, I pass along.

That the adbusters.org image is part of a "Got Oil?" parody of the "Got Milk?" campaign doesn't settle the issue of whether the Cheney mustache is even intended by adbusters.org (never mind the British publishers of Krugman's book) to be Hitleresque. The point of the adbusters.org copy accompanying its "Got Oil?" picture seems to be that Mr. Cheney is led to fascistic activities by his supposed obsession with oil - although Hitler is not mentioned. The "double meaning" of the mustache seems intentional - and, as adbuster.org's "defacement" of President Bush indicates here, the organization is perfectly prepared to visually suggest the Hitler connection.

All that being said, some of the adbuster.org efforts are pretty damn funny.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Verities argues vigorously that the British audience will understand the "Got Milk?" reference, even if the campaign has not been used there. The reader is invited to evaluate the Verities arguments and make her own decisions.

One detail: When I noted above that: The UK Dairy Council site doesn't mention a "got milk?" campaign, I was refering to use of a "got milk?" campaign in the UK. That the Dairy Council has a press release that mentions the campaign in the US, but makes no mention of its use in the UK, suggests that the campaign has not been used in the UK.

Do famous, long-lived ad campaigns in the US necessarilly percolate into minds of many Europeans - or at least the British? Sometimes that happens to some extent. But enough to sell books and displace images of Hitler?

The UK apparently has its own milk campaign that uses people with white mustaches - but not the "Got Milk?" tag line. Would that campaign cause the British to see the mustached image of Cheney as an oil drinker, but not Hitleresque? That seems unlikely to the Man Without Qualities - but others may differ.

The reader should make up her own mind.

MORE: The Times waddles in!
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Paying For Howard Dean II: Feeding The Beast

Howard Dean's recent midnight confidence that he would like to re-regulate vast portions of the American economy even as he sweepingly repudiates his prior support for its free trade agreements should be juxaposed with what is, and probably will remain for some time, a major feature of the federal government: it's large deficits - or at least its large debt.

One now-standard explanation for Republican/Conservative acceptance of the large federal deficits that lead to large federal debt is the "starve the beast" theory. A reasonable explanation is provided by Holman Jenkins, for example:

What Republicans have understood ... is that the only effective long-term form of fiscal discipline is tax cuts.

Republicans have become the Party of Tax Cuts: that is, the party that lets you keep your own money, the party that protects the private sector from being smothered by big government. In a more sophisticated audience's eyes, it means a second thing: the party that restrains the growth of government by keeping it on the only fiscal leash that works--a k a the deficit, which maintains a constant tension between forgoing new spending or borrowing to pay for it.

Admittedly, this involves Republicans in a certain amount of self-duplicity (We don't mean this in a bad way; every party has to keep its big tent together.) Not only do Republicans take as given that Congress will spend every dime it can tax and then every dime it can borrow, until it runs up against its effective credit limit. Republicans also accept that they will behave exactly like Democrats in this matter.

The deficit has become the Repubocrat/Demolican equivalent of using adhesive tape as a diet aid. It's not subtle. It doesn't demonstrate a high degree of willpower or self-control. But it works, sort of.


But even if this theory is correct, the deficit restrains only federal spending and the public's loathing of taxes only restrains tax revenues. So suppose the theory is correct, and big deficits leading to big debt combined with tax-animus effectively restrain both federal spending and federal tax revenues. Whay happens then?

Well, the appetite of the "beast" - the desire of various constituencies to shift wealth their way through the federal government - doesn't abate. If it can't be slaked through direct federal taxes and spending, then it will seek satisfaction through indirect federal tax and spending equivalents. Nothing in the existence of a large deficit, large debt or tax animus directly stops the federal government from shifting real wealth through regulation. Put another way: if the federal government can't tax you and spend your tax money on its favored constituencies, then it might instead be able to instruct you to spend your own money on its favored constituencies through regulation. Indeed, to the extent any strategy (including "starve-the-beast") effectively blocks the direct tax-and-spend route of wealth shifting, one would expect pressure to exploit the indirect shift-wealth-through-regulation approach to build.

And that's just what Dr. Dean is proposing to do. With his re-regulation program he is suggesting another means to feed the beast.

But increased regulation is not the only way the federal government - or any sovereign - can disguise a tax-and-spend wealth shifting ploy.

There is also inflation. Inflation has not been an issue much in the United States recently - to some extent because some time ago the Fed demonstrated its willingness to squeeze the economy into a recession rather than allow much inflation. [The trade deficit and increased productivity have a lot to do with that, too, for example.] Some canny analysts suggest that the Fed's current easy money, low interest rate policies have created a monetary bubble waiting to explode into serious inflation. If that were to happen, the Fed would again be called upon to take recessionary actions.

But would the same President Dean who proposes to re-regulate the economy as an indirect tax-and-spend ploy be likely to appoint Fed board members willing to take recessionary action to snuff out yet another indirect tax-and-spend ploy? Would a Democratic Party now chanting that President Bush should be cast out for failing to maintain employment at the level of the last bubble be willing to accept recessionary actions necessary to constrain the next bubble? Dr. Dean represents an attempt to return to an older model of regulatory state - but last time that model crashed in an inflationary cloud, which is largely what occassioned Ronald Reagan's ascent.

And let's not forget a third indirect tax-and-spend ploy: tort judgments. Given Dr, Dean's recent musings on re-regulation, it would not be surprising if he is also contemplating some major expansions in federal tort liability law.

[An aside: Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman often complains about tax cuts, and argues that they will lead to Argentina-like inflationary results in this country. But Argentina actually had very high tax rates. Illegal tax evasion was a prominant result of a confiscatory tax system. So the Argentine government, unable to raise money through direct taxes, imposed the indirect tax of inflation. For some reason Herr Doktorprofessor doesn't mention that much in his anti-tax-cut rants.]
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Paying For Howard Dean

In an interview around midnight Monday on his campaign plane with a small group of reporters, Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his "re-regulation" campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out "re-regulating" the telecommunications industry, too.

He also said a Dean administration would require new workers' standards, a much broader right to unionize and new "transparency" requirements for corporations that go beyond the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley law. ....

Dean said in the interview that "re-regulation" is a key tool for restoring trust. In doing so, he drew a sharp distinction with Bush, an outspoken advocate of free markets who wants to further deregulate media companies and other key sectors of the economy.

Dean also continued his clear break from Clinton's "New Democrat" philosophy of trying to appease both business and workers with centrist policies. Earlier in the campaign, Dean reversed his prior support for Clinton's free-trade agreements with Mexico, Canada and China. ....

Voters are clearly hungry for government efforts to force better corporate behavior, especially with scandals hitting such industries as mutual funds and accounting, pollsters say. At the same time, they are unlikely to accept the price spikes that Republicans and some Democrats warn could accompany some new regulations.


Yes, yes, there is that little imperfection in this quasi-socialist image from Dr. Dean's fever dream. But it is interesting that even the Washington Post reporter - one of that small group of reporters who got to snuggle with Dr. Dean on his campaign plane as he spoke his fantasies - at least dimly sensed that perhaps running a hugely enlarged part of the process of allocating real resources in the United States through the discretion of politicians and unelected government regulators might actually cost something.

I suppose we will have to wait to see if the Post and its reporter ever catch on to the fact that regulation not only costs a lot, but also often - even usually - doesn't accomplish what the regulators say they are trying to do, and, in fact, often exacerbates the very problems the regulators say they are trying to solve. It isn't necessary to read analyses of the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley law that mostly show it is accomplishing nothing of its supposed intents while boosting costs quite a bit. One might have thought that Dr. Dean himself - who has just opted out of the federal public campaign finance system on the grounds that remaining in it would have exacerbated the very campaign fairness problems that the federal election regulators say they are trying to solve - might have had a clue on this. No such luck.

"If the regulations we've got are useless, expensive and counterproductive, then the answer must be more regulation - and lots of it!" Dr. Dean seems to say as he waves around that stethoscope he almost never used in his practice as a specialist in internal medicine.
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Tim Noah Has His Finger On The Pulse Of America! II

How could I have missed this juxaposition from within comments collected by Howard Fineman from one of Senator Clinton's closest friends and advisers, a hard-boiled insider:

Then Hillary could come in, well in advance of the convention, and say, ‘Look, somebody has to save the party’.”... Party and elected officials—the so-called superdelegates—are free to shift allegiance, and could form an instant core of Clinton support. Should she make a dramatic entrance next summer ...

The Democratic convention starts July 26, 2004. The summer solstice marks the first day of the season of summer (near June 22) when the Sun is farthest north.

So this closest friend, adviser and hard-boiled insider thinks that Hillary Clinton could come in and make a dramatic entrance next summer (after June 22) but still well in advance of the July 26 convention.

I guess that all depands on what your meaning of well in advance is. The management of Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel would probably have to struggle to suppress a laugh at someone who thought a few weeks constituted an attempt to reserve a room there well in advance. But if what you're after is just the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States and not a room at a swank hotel in a national park - making your dramatic entrance three weeks ahead of time might be considered by some people to be well in advance of the convention. At least that might be the way the words are defined by those hard boiled insiders who are the so-called superdelegates you largely helped to appoint, the ones who are free to shift allegiance and could form an instant core of your support.

It's all so ... so ... so ... Clintonian!
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Tuesday, November 18, 2003


All Books Not Fit to Review

It turns out that the New York Times Book Review doesn't read many conservative books - but lots of thin, ultra-liberal screeds (think Michael Moore) do get reviewed.

This is a surprise to someone?

One suggestion in the Fox New item is that the Times thinks that much conservatism is comparatively transient in terms of political whims and currents of the moment.

UPDATE: Here's a nice chart illustrating the results of the Times' reviewing policy that Tom McMahon created from the FoxNews material. It's useful to be able to see at a glance that the Times took a pass on Laura Ingraham's Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN are Subverting America, where Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? warranted a review.

That - and lots more on this chart - is worth keeping in mind the next time one hears a Times representative defend the paper's editorial policies.

FURTHER UPDATE: Some things may be in flux at the Times Book Review - although there is no word that its political bias is to change. The New York Observor reports:

When Charles (Chip) McGrath steps down this winter as editor of The New York Times Book Review in order to write for the paper full-time, whoever takes over will inherit not just a storied piece of literary real estate but a set of problems that may just be unsolvable. .... But for now, it sounds like status quo is the goal. "We’re big fans of the Book Review we publish now. We’re just looking for an exciting editor," [Adam Moss, The Times’ newly appointed "culture czar,"] said. The Times is looking for "a person who can do as good a job with the Review as Chip did and who will bring his or her own ideas. We’re not looking for a person to execute a plan we already have," he continued. "The important thing is, we’re not looking for radical change."
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Consumer Comfort Index

The Consumer Comfort Index uses a scale of +100 to -100 and is based on a rolling four-week sample of approximately 1,000 adults nationwide.

End Date.................................. Consumer Comfort Index

11/16/03................................................-17
11/9/03..................................................-18
11/2/03..................................................-18
10/26/03................................................-18
10/19/03................................................-19
10/12/03................................................-19
10/5/03...................................................-20

Apparently, gradually improving comfort.
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Krugmania Deranged

Don Luskin appropriately asks whether Paul Krugman approved the UK jacket art for his new book - as featured on Amazon (UK).
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X(3872) Is Trouble For The Standard Model

Made in Japan:

Scientists have found a sub-atomic particle they cannot explain using current theories of energy and matter.
The discovery was made by researchers based at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation in Tsukuba.

Classified as X(3872), the particle was seen fleetingly in an atom smasher and has been dubbed the "mystery meson".

The Japanese team says understanding its existence may require a change to the Standard Model, the accepted theory of the way the Universe is constructed.

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Copyright Erosion

Could any sensible person look at these kitchen cutting boards incorporating Monet's Water Lilies (Price: $16.95), Van Gogh's Irises (Price: $16.95) and New! Cezanne's Oranges (Price: $16.95) and not realize that each of of these artists would have preferred, say, pulling out all of his fingernails with a pair of plyers to licensing his painting to appear in this form and on this product?

Could any sensible person not understand that a main reason these artists would not have permitted such licensing is that it degrades the value of the original - and all copies - in favor of the marginal benefit to the product vendor?

Could any sensible person look at these products and fail to understand that copyright is not a "public good?"
No. No sensible person could.

Order yours now. It's not too late!

May we also suggest Art Soap Sets - 3 Artists.

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Who's Worrying?

To look at the polls, Howard Dean doesn't seem to do all that badly against George Bush:

"If [see below] were the Democratic Party's candidate and George W. Bush were the Republican Party's candidate, who would you be more likely to vote for: [see below], the Democrat or George W. Bush, the Republican?" If undecided: "As of today, do you lean more toward [see below], the Democrat, or Bush, the Republican?" Names rotated

........................................................George W. Bush...........................Howard Dean
....................................................................%................................................%
11/03..........................................................53..............................................44
9/03............................................................49..............................................46

Indeed, Dr. Dean does just slightly worse than the "electable" General Clark in the same polling question - and General Clark is widely perceived as now losing a lot of steam:

.......................................................George W. Bush............................Wesley Clark
...................................................................%...............................................%
11/03..........................................................50..............................................47
9/03............................................................46..............................................49

So, since Dr. Dean is doing so well with Democrats and not really materially worse than General Clark among the general electorate, why the heck does the media keep running all those "the Democratic Party is so worried about Dr. Dean" stories:

In the wider Democratic universe, however, the prospect of a Dean nomination has sent some party members into paroxysms of private hand-wringing. Not only do they see him losing badly to Bush, they also see Dean hurting Democratic candidates further down on the ticket - rippling into congressional races, and possibly even boosting Republican control of the 100-seat Senate close to the crucial threshold of 60 seats, which would make it filibuster-proof.

"We could come perilously close to a one-party state," says a longtime Democratic activist with no formal ties to any campaign. "We could wind up with two more Antonin Scalias [on the Supreme Court]," he adds, referring to one of the most conservative justices.

Some big-name Democrats have begun to speak openly about Dean's vulnerabilities as a potential nominee. In a Washington Post interview published Monday, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), who has not endorsed any candidate, says if Dean is nominated, he will have to work hard to show that he's as tough as Bush in handling the war on terrorism. Of the leading Democratic candidates, Dean is the only one to oppose the war with Iraq - the issue that energized his candidacy in the first place. He also has less experience in defense and foreign policy.


Setting aside the issue of whether Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is a "big name Democrat," perhaps this passage from the same Monitor article offers some insight into the apparent Democratic results/anxiety disconnect:

Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst ... adds that this sense of unease probably mirrors some concern in the Democratic establishment that Dean is too much of an outsider, that he's too angry and can be painted as too far left. .... [O]ne discouraged outpost of the Democratic Party is the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the breeding ground for many of the centrist ideas that President Clinton and Vice President Gore espoused and which appear, in this cycle, to be out of sync with what Democratic base voters are looking for - a clear contrast with a president they cannot abide. Will Marshall, the DLC president, speaks of the "myth of inevitability" that the "Dean propaganda machine" has skillfully cultivated.

So big sources of this anti-Dean anxiety seem to be the Democratic establishment and the Democratic Leadership Council. That Democratic establishment presumably includes a nice big serving of the Clinton-appointed and dominated Democratic National Committee - which Dr. Dean says he wants to sweep clean of Clintonian influence. The Democratic Leadership Council has been the traditional source of Clinton influence - which Deanmania is said to show is now "out of sync." And, of course, the more-electable-but-only-on-paper Wesley Clark is the Clintons' darling.

Clintons, Clintons, Clintons. Those names and connections just keep coming up when its time to start putting Dr. Dean down.

But the Clintons surely wouldn't be encouraging these Dean-anxiety messages by using their influence with a Democratic establishment they largely installed, and with the wide portion of the media that willingly caters to them. Would they? No. No. No. Unthinkable. No doubt that famously selfless couple just wants to be sure that there is someone there to save the Democratic party if Dr. Dean "fades."

[And what the heck is "a longtime Democratic activist with no formal ties to any campaign" supposed to tell us? Couldn't, say, Senator Lieberman's best friend since childhood and current weekly poker partner satisfy this description? Are we to assume that this "longtime Democratic activist" who for some reason won't speak on the record has some informal ties to one of the campaigns? Wouldn't an informal tie bias the opinion in just the way the Monitor reporter is attempting to reassure the reader isn't occurring? Are there no Democratic insiders who are willing to say such things and also be named? If not, why not?]

UPDATE: An astute and knowledgeable reader e-mails a note explaining why these polls are frightening Democrats more than the results might seem to warrant:

These CNN polls showing the Dem candidates close to or even ahead of Bush are bogus media hypes, and the real, electoral numbers show a much wider distance between Bush and the Dems. And the politicians know that.

There are a few reasons for the disparity. One, all the CNN/Gallup polls have a sample of around 1000 adults (not registered or likely voters), which does not give a true picture of electoral strength. Second, if you look at the details behind the headlines, you will find that these samples contain an inordinate proportion of Democrats (in a poll about a month ago, CNN-Gallup had 480 Democrats in a total sample of 1004 adults. I have not checked the make up of the current poll. This is unrepresentative of the general population, where Republicans, Democrats and Independents are about evenly divided.) This oversampling obviously skews the results against Bush.

Another great example of the skewed results was the LA Times poll before the California recall election, which showed Bustamante leading Arnold by about 6 points.


That all sounds about right to me.

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Monday, November 17, 2003


Herr Doktorprofessor, Heal Thyself II

It seems that the "deal" cut in Congress does include some kind of premium support (that is, vouchers) - and AARP is supporting the deal:

WILLIAM NOVELLI, CEO of the AARP, said his group would “pull out all the stops” to pass the legislation, including a three-day television advertising campaign this week. The bill is not perfect, he conceded, “but the country can’t afford to wait for perfect. On balance, it’s the right thing for seniors in America and their families.” ....

The legislation creates a $12 billion fund to help managed-care plans take hold among the Medicare population.


So Mr. Novelli seems to be interested in whether the bill would generally improve medical care for seniors - exactly the question that Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman is inclined to leave aside. Herr Doktorprofessor seems to be standing together with the senior Congressional Democrats, who are focusing on the political aspects of the bill - not whether it improves medical care.

Is Herr Doktorprofessor going to argue that AARP has developed a bad case of "false consciousness?" Doesn't AARP realize that Herr Doktorprofessor has been sounding the clarion call that this legislation is intended to "undermine" Medicare?

Dear me. Dear me. Why aren't people listening to Herr Doktorprofessor?
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Gallup Poll and CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll


Reason for Hillary Clinton to jump in ...?

"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?"

..............................................Approve....................Disapprove
..................................................%..................................%

11/14-16/03..............................50.................................47
11/10-12/03..............................51.................................45
11/3-5/03..................................54.................................43
10/24-26/03..............................53.................................42
10/10-12/03..............................56.................................40
10/6-8/03..................................55.................................42

Maybe not.
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Not Disneyland

Last night the Man Without Qualities and spouse attended the first concert and gala dinner of the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the new Disney Hall. (Mr. Five Per Cent had to be left at home, to his great disappointment. School night.)

It would be hard to imagine a more exceptional evening. The Master Chorale is moving a bit more into modern music under the guidance of Grant Gershon, who took over from Paul Salamunovich a couple of years ago, and last night's program reflected that shift. After a cocktail party peopled by appealingly gowned ladies and their penguin squires in an architecturally interesting backstage indoor-outdoor niche, the concert began with the plainchant hymn Veni creator spiritus (Come, creative spirit) and Johann Sebastian Bach's Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Sing to the Lord a New Song).

Then there were some new songs.

Specifically, there were world premiers of two works composed jointly by Bobby McFerrin and Roger Treece: Brief Eternity and Messages Yes, he's the Bobby McFerrin of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." I have heard Mr. McFerrin conduct the Los Angeles philharmonic previously, and I was impressed by him then, although he did not then conduct his own music. Mr. McFerrin bridges the Classical/Popular divide very well - to my ears, a lot better than Leonard Bernstein did. I don't know anything about Mr. Teech except that he was there last night in the role of an engaging and talented and apparently very young man. The scores were just wonderful. Balanced, unintimidated, good humored, unpretentious, approachable, subtle and very well crafted. Very good music that wants very much to be liked.

The concert ended with the shimmering efflorescence of John Adams' "Harmonium" - first presented at the opening of Davies Hall in San Francisco twenty years ago. Well worth the detour.

Of course the Hall itself was also very much on the premiere program. Everyone seemed to love it. Just confusing enough to make you respect its personality without being maddening. Most importantly, the acoustics are really superb and the auditorium space is amazingly intimate. Spectacular. In its entire 1,000 years of life, Veni creator spiritus surely never had a better performance or hearing. The smell of douglas fir - of which virtually every interior surface in the auditorium is faced - was strong and remarkably comforting and appropriate.

The Man Without Qualities cannot wait to hear the Master Chorale perform Spem in Allium at Disney Hall - Thomas Tallis' forty part choral harmony from religiously confused Tudor England. Not scheduled, but inevitable.

That so little West Los Angeles money is in this Hall - Eli Broad being a wonderful exception, as he is in so many things - is just a disgrace. Nobody wants to say that out loud and spoil the festivities. But it's true. On the other hand, you West Siders: IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO OPEN THOSE CHECKBOOKS!!! A musician is waiting!

[Note to Disney Hall management: Check with industrial perfumeries to replicate that douglas fir scent for injection through the ventilation system once the real thing fades. Warning: Don't try this at home - severe risk of entire house smelling like kitchen floor cleaner.]

If one were to have gone by the publicity attending the Hall's opening, one could have been forgiven for concluding that Disney Hall was entirely created by its genius architect on his computer (what he termed his "magic pen"), then passed to the genius acoustic designer for refinement (construction of the building was actually finished six months early to permit the acoustics to be worked out before the opening), and then - with the stroke of a well-finance and expensive Star Ship Enterprise transporter just materialized on its site. That is, there was almost no mention in that opening publicity literature of Mortensen Construction, the company that actually built the Hall.

But during the period of those opening festivities (none of which was attended by the Man Without Qualities) I was able to break bread at an excellent Silverlake Indian restaurant with a senior representative of Mortensen Construction - and I can assure you it is no accident that even with all the fur, accusations and charges flying during the Hall's construction nobody pointed a finger at Mortensen Construction. Keep this in mind: If you build a controversial Quarter-Billion Dollar public building and nobody thinks to talk about you in public before or when it opens you've done a superb job.

Among other amazing, poetic and unreported aspects of the Disney Hall construction process, Mortensen Construction used "4-D" construction sequencing software that was developed with a good amount of help from the animators at Walt Disney Company.

One imagines that notwithstanding the lack of publicity people who in the future need to build huge, high-style public spaces using tricky engineering and technology will somehow find out about Mortensen Construction - and that the Disney Hall administration will amply express it's gratitude and admiration at that time.

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Sunday, November 16, 2003


A Note To Conrad Black, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein

From Jim Powell.

Mr. Powell has some very interesting things to say. But he doesn't really focus on Mr. Black's assignment of only a "passing" grade to the economics of the New Deal.

Mr. Black is much more enthusiastic about the New Deal and FDR as political phenomenons.

Economic success is already very hard to pin down and quantify. But capturing notions of political success objectively - within a commonly accpted framework? Sometimes it can be done.

But often: How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? How do you catch a moon beam in your hand? How do you hold a wave upon the sand?

How do you find a word that means FDR? A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown! A chameleon on plaid!

UPDATE: Of course, Conrad Black has more on his mind now than old musicals and even older presidents.

In fact, Conrad Black may now feel that he's all too close to meeting Joe Black.
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Tim Noah Has His Finger On The Pulse Of America!

... or something.

In response to a lot of thoroughly irresponsible chatter, Mr. Noah instructed us all:

There's a powerful political movement afoot to draft Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for president in 2004. Its partisans are committed almost to the point of fanaticism, and their number is growing by the hour. This thing is an absolute juggernaut. Even so, the Draft Hillary '04 forces probably won't secure their candidate's Democratic nomination. Why not? Because they're all Republicans!

Yep. They're all Republicans.

So maybe Mr. Noah can explain to Howard Fineman that it just cannot be true that one of Senator Clinton's closest friends and advisers, someone who is no less than a hard-boiled insider, actually let fly with some thoroughly irresponsible chattering interview that justifies - even remotely - Mr. Fineman's preposterous statement:

Some dreams never die, including one clung to by loyal Clintonistas: that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democrats’ presidential nominee next year. Is there a chance she would get into the race? “That depends on what you mean by ‘get into the race’,” one of her closest friends and advisers explained to NEWSWEEK. ... “You’d have to have Howard Dean not wrapping it up, and being an angry, wounded front runner,” this adviser said. “You’d have to have two of the other challengers tearing each other apart in primary after primary. Then Hillary could come in, well in advance of the convention, and say, ‘Look, somebody has to save the party’.”...

Party and elected officials—the so-called superdelegates—are free to shift allegiance, and could form an instant core of Clinton support. Should she make a dramatic entrance next summer, the senator might be able to draw on the help of some savvy campaign veterans (and Clinton loyalists) now in the employ of other candidates. If Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign fades, for example, she might recruit his top pros, media handler Mandy Grunwald and pollster Mark Penn.


Gee, aren't those "party officials" included in the so-called superdelegates mostly people who have their jobs because of the Clintons? You know, the same people that Howard Dean says he wants to get rid of?

And, let's see if I understand this reasoning. We know that if Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign fades, for example, she might recruit his top pros, media handler Mandy Grunwald and pollster Mark Penn.

So if General Clark's campaign "fades," for example? What happens then?

UPDATE: More people who must all be Republicans, even though they're cooling their buns in the Iowa. That zany Adam Nagourney writes: Parts of her speech directly echoed what President Clinton said in a speech to Iowa Democrats here over the summer.

"Directly echoed?" The Times is boldly going where no English speaker has ever gone before! "Directly echoed?"
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Herr Doktorprofessor, Heal Thyself

Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman has been cherry picked.

He says that he has enough money to count himself as very comfortable. So he can probably afford to purchase private medical insurance. He also works for Princeton University, and the faculties of most such universities are amply provided with medical insurance and are notoriously long-lived.

In short, like most people with sufficient incomes and good statistical health profiles, he will never have to rely on Medicare. He has been cherry picked.

But Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman thinks that it would be an absolutely terrible idea - indeed, the dreaded "cherry picking" - if the government were to provide subsidies allowing people with less money than he has to purchase private medical insurance. He's in quite a huff over it - even to the point of referring to the idea as a "Trojan horse" and a "bait-and-switch," an illegal retail practice:

Meanwhile, another proposal - to force Medicare to compete with private insurers - seems intended to undermine the whole system.

This proposal goes under the name of "premium support." Medicare would no longer cover whatever medical costs an individual faced; instead, retirees would receive a lump sum to buy private insurance. (Those who opted to remain with the traditional system would have to pay extra premiums.) The ostensible rationale for this change is the claim that private insurers can provide better, cheaper medical care.

But many studies predict that private insurers would cherry-pick the best (healthiest) prospects, leaving traditional Medicare with retirees who are likely to have high medical costs. These higher costs would then be reflected in the extra payments required to stay in traditional fee-for-service coverage. The effect would be to put health care out of reach for many older Americans. As a 2002 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation judiciously put it, "Difficulties in adjusting for beneficiary health status . . . could make the traditional Medicare FFS program unaffordable to a large portion of beneficiaries."


These objections, together with Herr Doktorprofessor's willingness to accept his own privileged position accompanied by his outrage, alarm and quasi-paranoid suggestion that the proposal seems intended to undermine the whole system should be familiar to the reader. Indeed, the passage could have been created with a rapid cut-and-paste from Herr Doktorprofessor's objections to school vouchers. That makes sense, because the "premium support" idea is simply a kind of medical insurance voucher. Indeed, he had directly and expressly linked the two areas, as when he complained that the administration continues to believe that "financialization" is the way to go on just about everything, from school vouchers to Social Security. Here are some representative Krugmaniacal passages on school vouchers:

[P]roposals for school vouchers should be critiqued not only on educational or cost-efficiency grounds but also because they raise the risk of a collapse in the political support for public education. (If upper-middle-class families are allowed to "top up" their vouchers with their own money, they will soon realize that it is in their interest to cut the size of the vouchers as much as possible). And-dare we say it?-we should in general oppose privatization plans if they are likely to destroy public sector unions. After all, people on the right tend to favor privatization for exactly the same reason.

Many conservatives and even a few liberals are in favor of issuing educational vouchers and allowing parents to choose among competing schools. Let's leave aside the question of what this might do to education and ask what its political implications might be. Initially, we might imagine, the government would prohibit parents from "topping up" vouchers to buy higher-priced education. But once the program was established, conservatives would insist such a restriction is unfair, maybe even unconstitutional, arguing that parents should have the freedom to spend their money as they wish. Thus, a voucher would become a ticket you could supplement freely. Upper-income families would realize that a reduction in the voucher is to their benefit: They will save more in lowered taxes than they will lose in a decreased education subsidy. So they will press to reduce public spending on education, leading to ever- deteriorating quality for those who cannot afford to spend extra. In the end, the quintessential American tradition of public education for all could collapse.

These two Krugmaniacal samples appear to date from the mid-1990's - before publicly financed school vouchers programs had got started. Such publicly financed school voucher programs have now existed for a while in several places - and the evidence so far is that those programs have benefited education generally in the places where they have been tried. But then, didn't Herr Doktorprofessor build himself an escape hatch for this objection? Why, yes, he does build an escape hatch. He comforts us: Let's leave aside the question of what this might do to education and ask what its political implications might be.

Isn't it nice of Herr Doktorprofessor to spend all that intellectual energy on a putative analysis of an education proposal that "leaves aside" the most overwhelmingly important question - in fact, the only really important question: what this might do to education? I leave it to the reader to determine for herself whether this is a little intellectual "bait-and-switch" on Herr Doktorprofessor's part.

In his most recent column, Herr Doktorprofessor also seems inclined to leave aside the question of what vouchers (or "premium support") might do to medical care and instead asks what its political implications might be. (Answer: Medicare, "undermined.")

As is so often the case with Herr Doktorprofessor's rants, he buries most of his sources even as he purports to rely on their august credentials:

But many studies predict that private insurers would cherry-pick the best (healthiest) prospects, leaving traditional Medicare with retirees who are likely to have high medical costs.

Yes, and many studies predict that private schools would cherry-pick the best (smartest, best behaved) prospects, leaving traditional public schools with less talented, emotionally impaired children who are likely to have high educational costs and low performance. So far, those educational studies appear to have been wildly wrong. That is not too surprising, since many of those many studies were prepared by people with seriously vested interests in maintaining the status quo and there were also many studies saying the opposite and even arguing that "cherry picking" is a cost worth paying. Do we order Stanford University to close because it's "cherry picking" from the University of California or "undermining" public support for the public university system? Of course not - because what we care about is the general quality of education. The competition between the public and private sectors benefits the public - it is not important that a particular competitor is benefited either in education or medical care.

Similarly, that "traditional Medicare" might be "undermined" by some reform is completely irrelevant if the net effect is an increase in the quality of medical care. And it appears to be no problem for Herr Doktorprofessor that the government already provides huge subsidies through the tax system to employers to offer medical insurance to their employees.

But Herr Doktorprofessor spends not a word on those topics. He would prefer to - and does - leave aside the question. He's once again too eager to get down to the ephemera of Bush-and-Republican bashing to actually address any really important questions. In fact, his political biases are so urgent for him that they again seem to preclude him from even asking or thinking of the right questions.

Steve Antler has a word on the bias evident in the work of Kaiser Family Foundation, the outfit that produced the one study Herr Doktorprofessor almost (but not quite) actually identifies - and from which he quotes (Incompletely? Out of context? How could anyone tell?). And even that lonely quote from that suspect source does not really support the position that Herr Doktorprofessor says it supports. The quote is: "Difficulties in adjusting for beneficiary health status . . . could make the traditional Medicare FFS program unaffordable to a large portion of beneficiaries." Yes, they could ... and, then again, they might not ... and "traditional Medicare" could become unsustainable if it is not reformed, harming everyone who depends on it ... - and the earth could be struck by a meteor next week! If that KFF quote represents the strongest position his "many studies" have taken against "premium support," then Herr Doktorprofessor has proved that Congress would be well advised to enact such a program right away.

UPDATE: Herr Doktorprofessor's objection to the bill he discusses (I do not know if this proposed bill is included in or consistent with the deal Congress has reportedly just reached on Medicare), that Congress in 2003 is somehow "ruling out" possible responses by the Congress in 2010 or 2011, frankly just seemed too ridiculous (and too obviously column inch-filler), to even warrant an answer. But I was wrong. Kausfiles provides a good answer - one really worth reading.

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Saturday, November 15, 2003
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Louisiana Election

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Medical Insurance As A Non-Priority Item

Consider this passage from a New York Times report on middle class people losing their health care insurance:

Ms. Pardo, a 29-year-old from Houston, said that having no insurance meant choosing between buying an inhaler for her 9-year-old asthmatic daughter or buying her a birthday present. The girl, Morgan, lost her state-subsidized insurance last month, and now her mother must pay $80 instead of $5 for the inhaler. Rent, car payments and insurance, day care and utilities cost Ms. Pardo more than $1,200 a month, leaving less than $200 for food, gas and other expenses. So even though her employer, the Harris County government, provides her with low-cost insurance, she cannot afford the $275 a month she would have to pay to add her daughter to her plan.

Isn't there something more than a little bit odd about an article that presents medical insurance as an essential, whose loss forces people into the most dreadful choices, casually explaining that the $240 cost for a child's medical insurance must come from what is left over after rent, car payments and insurance, day care and utilities?

And what is one to make of this passage:

Mr. Thornton, 41, left a stable job with good health coverage in 1998 for a higher salary at a dot-com company that went bust a few months later. Since then, he has worked on contract for various companies, including one that provided insurance until the project ended in 2000. "I failed to keep up the payments that would have been required to maintain my coverage," he said. "It was just too much money."

These people are not poor, and they are not unaware of the costs and risks connected with the decision of whether to purchase or not purchase health insurance. They are making consumption choices - and they quite clearly view health insurance as of a type with other ordinary goods. Indeed, in the case of Ms. Pardo, health insurance seems to be an ordinary good that is of less signifiance than economizing on rent, car payments and insurance, day care and utilities.

Of course, the middle class is not alone in expressing a sometimes low value assignment to medical insurance. Recent reports of state-subsidized health insurance simply going unclaimed by eligible low-income people are also striking.

Many economists treat the decision not to purchase health insurance as somehow "irrational" - or evidence that people who don't purchase such insurance are simply incapable of evaluating the risks and benefits. But the growing population of middle class people choosing to forego health insurance even though they could afford it if they chose to economize on other ordinary expenditures is strong evidence to the contrary. The inclination of economists to second-guess such decisions may have more to do with the relative risk aversion of economists compared to the population as a whole than it has to do with the ability of middle class people to evaluate these costs and risks for themselves.

Of course, if one takes this risk and actually develops a serious medical problem, one is normally perfectly well inclined to make use of whatever argument one can lay hold of to pay for the costs of one's own decision. But that doesn't mean one didn't understand the risk or make the choice.


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