Man Without Qualities

Friday, October 31, 2003

Self Awareness

Atrios, today: My norm of civility is, roughly, tit for tat. I'm civil to people who are civil to me and "libruls" more generally, and I'm not civil to people who aren't.

Atrios, then: Betsy Hart needs a good cockpunching.

Here's some background.
(0) comments

Valley of Denial

As everyone now knows and is talking about:

Accelerating from a jog to a sprint, the economy surged from July through September at the fastest pace in nearly two decades. Both consumers and businesses helped power the gains, fresh evidence the national rebound is on firmer footing. The broadest measure of the economy's performance, gross domestic product, grew at a breakneck 7.2 percent annual rate during those three months, more than double the 3.3 percent rate in the previous quarter.

And for the past day it has also been heard and written incessantly and everywhere that the strong GDP report has seriously weakened — at least for now, and perhaps for good — the Democratic case against how President Bush has handled the economy.

But wait! There is someplace in the blogosphere, a cyber-valley that time forgot, where not a word has appeared on these topics: Eschaton.

Eschaton posts during that period deal with (1) Google/Microsoft, (2) goof up at the Justice Department on redacting some obscure data from a document, (3) Condi's comments on Clinton administrations intelligence policies, (4) Lou Dobbs' polling policies, (5) Greg Easterbrook on California's net revenue receipt from federal government, (6) "Hajji" (said to be the war on terrorism's own "dehumanizing name"), (7) Neal Pollack on Daily Show?, (8) emminent domain in Greater Cleveland, (9) Luskin, (10) more Luskin, (11) quasi-paranoid alarm that "They've discovered a way for new jobless claims to fall every week while simultaneously remaining exactly the same," (12) Chris Matthews on Dick Cheney, (13) armed man (actually, two women) with toy gun in Cannon House Office Building, (14) more Luskin, (15) emails to read, (16) more Luskin, (17) Colmes on CSPAN and the "morning memo," (18) e-mailed beef from a tired marine and (19) contractors' in Iraq.

I don't get around much to viewing Eschaton. But, yes, yes, each of these 19 topics (or is it 16, if all the Luskin is one?) has its interesting aspects to someone, I suppose. I am particularly intrigued that Atrios' readers can work up heads of anger over the possibility that emminent domain is being abused in the Greater Cleveland area - has Drew Carey been told? And it especially seems as though Don Luskin has got the attention of the Atrios crowd. Curiously, the same cannot be said for what the New York Times reports as "the autumn of our content:"

Profits are soaring, the economy is expanding at its fastest rate in nearly two decades and there are signs that businesses are finally beginning to hire.

So it's morning at the Times. But in Eschaton's Valley of Denial, all is the darkness of the tomb.

UPDATE: QandO points out that the news has not reached the Democratic Party websites, either.

Hoystory includes Herr Doktorprofessor among the active denialists - as distinguished from the passive types bobbing in Eschaton's primordial soup. Hoystory also links to a Random Jottings post disclosing an amazing error by Herr Doktorprofessor in reporting basic economic data! Imagine that. [There's something wrong with Hoystory's direct link. Scroll to Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.]

Always listen to Viking Pundit. He knows.

And - better - he tells! He tells about the polls, about why the active it-can't-last denialists are probably wrong and more. Enjoy some cyber crayfish and caraway aquavit - it's always August in the blogoshere.

FURTHER UPDATE: Brad DeLong may belong in his own class of passive aggressive denialists. He does mention the good news. He does say that it is good news. But ... this development doesn't seem to have any consequences worth noting.

In a DeLong post immediately preceding the release of the third quarter figures, the Good Professor did find something worth noting: About five hours from now the Department of Commerce is going to release its first early estimate of the seasonally-adjusted pace of economic growth in the third, summer quarter of 2003. It will be a big number--growth at an annual rate of 6.0% per year or more. ... [T]he number of hours worked in America fell at an annual rate of 0.7% per year during the summer. [The Department of Commerce ] will then announce an estimate of the annual rate of productivity growth over the summer--something close to a 7.0% annual rate. How can such strong output growth coexist with such lousy employment news?

But the third quarter rate of growth wasn't 6%, it was 7.2%. There's no post revising that assumption. But a report of a dip in what "everyone" (a favorite DeLongian term) has been characterizing as an unsustainably torrid rate of consumer spending warrants it's own post including the bizarre comment 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, of course, no such "personal estimate" that takes into account the surprisingly high third quarter figures had ever been provided.

Gee, since he set it up this way, is there any fourth quarter result that would not allow the Good Professor to take credit for calling the quarter right?

UPDATE: Ah, the Good Professor endorses the position that although some good things have happened, meaningful good things have not happened. Passive aggressive, obscure denialism.

(0) comments

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Herr Doktorprofessor's Cat Goes Through The Roof

PRINCETON, Oct 30 (Rooters) Third quarter GDP and KCI rose strongly, triggering a vigorous investigation by the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance of a newly appearing hole in the roof of Princeton University professor of economics, Paul Krugman.

"There was a terrifying sound of cat shrieking and rending ceiling joists from the house, and what seemed to be a small furry animal hurtled skyward from the debris," said a Krugman neighbor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The carcass of the animal was later confirmed by Princeton police to be that of "Mr. GDP," the domestic cat kept for research and emotive purposes by Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman. Attorneys for the Princeton professor and New York Times columnist released the following statement to the media on his behalf:

The investigation is continuing, and I fully expect to be vindicated. Any American who tries to go beyond "cats good, terrorists evil" faces furious attacks delivered in a tone of high moral indignation. The attackers claim to be standing up for moral clarity and animal rights, and some of them may even believe it. But they are really being used in a domestic political struggle.

Today I find myself caught up in that struggle. Sure enough, I was accused in various places not just of being an "angry liberal" (yes, I'm ticked off) but of being in the pay of cat kickers. Smear tactics aside, the thrust of the attacks was that because cat-kicking is evil, anyone who tries to understand why a politician as clueless as George Bush would foment cat kicking in Princeton is an apologist for cat kicking and is complicit in evil.

Yet that moral punctiliousness is curiously selective. Last year the Bush administration, in return for a military base in Uzbekistan, gave $500 million to a government that, according to the State Department, uses torture "as a routine investigation technique," and whose president has killed opponents with boiling water. The moral clarity police were notably quiet.

Now these people, no doubt led on by my stalkers, are alleging that I kicked my cat through my roof. Suppose that's true, just speaking hypothetically, of course. Why is Bush's aiding a brutal dictator O.K., while trying to understand why others don't trust us - and doing something to create that trust, like kicking my cat through my roof - isn't? That misperception flourishes in part because the domestic political strategy of the Bush administration - no longer able to claim the Iraq war was a triumph, and with little but red ink to show for its economic plans - looks more and more like a crusade against Islam, and against myself, personally.

Herr Doktorprofessor refused further comment, his office explaining that he is absorbed in writing his Friday New York Times column, proving that George Bush will be turned out of office in the 2004 election as a result of the inevitable and catastrophic collapse of the bond market that will be provoked by today's dreadful economic news.

UPDATE: A limping chihuahua believed to have been owned by George Stiglitz was recovered by investigators from a field nearby and taken to a shelter recently set up in Piscataway to receive abused animals previously owned by liberal economists. A spokesman for the shelter said they were hopeful that the animal, which shows signs of recent agitated booting, should recover fully, but warned, "The recent phenomenon we have been experiencing of seriously choleric liberals - especially liberal economists - is taking a terrible toll on the pet population of academic enclaves in the greater New York metropolitan area, especially as the recovery has progressed. Even where the pet is not actually attacked, it's no piece of cake to depend on someone who has come entirely unmoored from reality."

An affiliated shelter is to open next month in northwest Washington, DC, where animals owned by staffers of Democratic think tanks are similarly threatened.

(0) comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A Simple Point

This post is so long some readers may have been deterred from reading it just by its length.

But there is at least one simple fact that bears separating out (previously noted by Steve Verdon, but I think worth repeating):

If one measures "jobs" by total civilian employees on nonfarm payrolls (seasonally adjusted or not), Paul Krugman it is not correct when he says that George Bush may be the first occupant of the White House since Herbert Hoover to end a term with fewer jobs available than when he started.

Eisenhower is a clear counterexample, according to BLS statistics:

January 1957 Seasonally Adjusted Total Civilian Employment: 45268

January 1961 Seasonally Adjusted Total Civilian Employment: 44208

The need to rely on some other specific measure of "jobs" to justify Herr Doktorprofessor's flashy claim is inconsistent with the highly dramatic effect the claim is intended to convey. That makes the claim an ineffective gimmick, not an insight.

Steve Verdon also helpfully recalls an old letter from Kenneth Arrow taking Herr Doktorprofessor to task for sloppy misrepresentations of fact.
(0) comments

Aircraft Box Cutters

There has been a spate of stories concerning boxcutters found or placed on commercial aircraft: here and here, for example.

But how much does this matter? Yes, the 9-11 terrorists used boxcutters. But a main reason those terrorists were successful was that the passengers and crew of the aircraft seized by the terrorists were trained and told not to resist terrorists. That is no longer the case.

Boxcutters obviously should not be allowed on commercial aircraft. But, almost as obviously, a boxcutter - unlike a gun or an explosive - is a relatively ineffective weapon where the proposed victim and others seriously resist.

So it seems wrong that these recent stories present - at least implicitly - the smuggling of boxcutters onto commercial aircraft as a major breach of security.

Undesirable? Of course.

Dangerous? Somewhat.

But the much larger threat to aircraft passengers may come from the shift of policy towards resisting terrorists. The old policy of non-resistance produced disastrous results on 9-11 because the terrorists were suicidal. Many recent terrorist acts - in Iraq and elsewhere - have involved such suicidal perpetrators, so the shift to the new policy seems well founded.

However, in the case of an old-fashioned terrorist seizure of an aircraft by terrorists who do not wish to die (once the presumption), the new policy could well result in the destruction of an aircraft that would not otherwise have perished.
(0) comments

Zell Miller Endorses Bush

One more of the many accumulating indications of the likely coming nationwide Democratic train wreck in 2004.

Still, a year is an eternity in politics.

Link from Henry Hanks.

(0) comments

Los Angeles Pentimento

So much is being written on the Southern California wildfires that any more seems like obvious surplus.

But among all the horrors, burnt out homes, ghastly skies and weird magenta solar discs in the gloaming, there is a minor amusing consequence of the fires: a lot more people seem to be wearing eyeglasses, even at the gym.

It is just not comfortable to wear contact lenses in Los Angeles now. Heck, even my unadorned lasiked eyes were smarting yesterday.

Which seems to be why the crowd in the weight room disturbingly resembled the students toiling in some Cal Tech library instead of some casting call for, say, Abercrombie & Fitch. The soot and noxious gases in the air seem to have revealed the city's inner nerds.

This phenomenon was drawn to my attention by my personal trainer - who does not wear glasses. Yes, this being Los Angeles, one has a personal trainer - in this case an imposing, lapsed rugby player and doughty Scott named Josh Long, who is full of good training tips and other observations. Of course, this being Los Angeles, one's personal trainer is trying to become an actor/model. And, as Josh also pointed out yesterday, he is making some headway - in this case by exploiting his training in some Edinburgh pub.

The Last Drop? Josh didn't say.

(0) comments

Monday, October 27, 2003

My Letter To Tom ...

... Maguire, that is.

Referring to Don Luskin's comments on Paul Krugman's recent apologia for "the anti-Semitic diatribe by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad," Tom suggested:

[I]t seems like an unnecessary stretch to argue that he is on Mahathir's payroll, or has gone soft on anti-Semitism for cash.

Which occassioned this response from the Man Without Qualities:

I don't think Don has argued that Krugman is on Mahathir's payroll. But it certainly is a fair question to ask who paid the bills when Krugman flew to Malaysia. Since Malaysia is pretty well infested with government/business "cronyism" (one of Krugman's favorite topics!), it seems fair to expect that the Malaysian government had a lot to do with paying those bills.

Once Krugman admits that his host directly or indirectly paid his bills (assuming that's true), it's another analysis to determine whether or to what extent Krugman has been distorting or "softening" his Malaysia coverage on account of such goodies.

I tend to think that (1) the Malaysian government did directly or indirectly pay for Krugman's junket, (2) he has not changed or softened his Malaysia coverage for cash or because of goodies purchased for him by the Malaysian government, directly or indirectly, but (3) he has probably distorted and "softened" his Malaysia coverage (including the way he presents the anti-semitism of his host and likely goodie-giver) on account of the intellectual flattery inherent in the Malaysian government seeking his counsel and following his advice (at least as a matter of parallel play), and his trip was likely part of that seduction.

Krugman needs to feel that he is IMPORTANT. He is no longer an important academic economist. All that seems to leave him open to intellectual seduction - even to the point of blinding him to much flagrant evil, as we see in this incident.

His willingness to flatter the hideous Malaysian prime minister because the prime minister flatters Krugman by following policies Krugman advocates (to the point of slobbering over Mahathir's "cageiness" and high intelligence and playing down his anti-Semitism) is just the mirror image of Krugman's obsessive dislike of a decent American president who doesn't follow policies Krugman advocates (to the point of blithering over Bush's supposed lack of intelligence and merit and inventing coded and unsupportable charges of anti-Semitism against him).

It's hard to feel sorry for Krugman, even as he is callously manipulated by the "cagey" Mahathir. Just as Krugman trafficks in the legitimacy of Princeton and the NY Times, the Malaysian dictator trafficks in the legitimacy of Krugman's positions in academics and journalism. Yes, it's pathetic - there's no fool like an academic fool. But Krugman brings it on himself with his bloated and overly sensitive ego - which needs to be seriously and constantly pricked for his own good.

In other words, Don Luskin's savaging Krugman is a work of charity towards Krugman himself. As the old saying goes, "Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind."
(0) comments

Max Frankel Does Wesley K. Clark

Sometimes a battle has an unambiguous victor - and in the case of this review of ''Winning Modern Wars'', it's Max Frankel over Wesley Clark:

''Winning Modern Wars'' turns out to be aptly wrapped. For its 200 pages, many of them updated just a month ago, are obviously designed to abet the swift transformation of a once embittered warrior and armchair television analyst into a hard-driving, platitudinous candidate for president. That jacket speaks louder than the coy words with which Clark denies any partisan purpose. He allows that while writing he heard ''continuing speculation about whether I might engage in some manner'' -- sic! -- ''in the 2004 election.'' But that ''looming decision had no bearing on my analysis.''

Uh, sure, Wesley.

But Mr. Frankel is just warming up. Towards the end of the review come the real fireworks:

It is a breathtaking vision. Besides sidling out of Iraq, a President Clark would strengthen ''and use'' international institutions, ''repair'' trans-Atlantic relations, ''resolve'' the nuclear challenges of North Korea and Iran, help settle ''disputes'' between India and Pakistan and Israel and the Palestinians, and help to ''ease the ongoing conflicts'' in Africa. He would increasingly employ ''the weapons of law enforcement rather than warfare in attacking terrorism,'' focus more on the ''root causes'' of Islamic terrorism and provide ''substantial economic and political development assistance'' to stimulate ''far-reaching reforms in critical societies in the Middle East.''

In America, too, he favors ''a fresh effort'' to balance private initiatives and public responsibilities to enlarge opportunity and strengthen the nation's competitiveness. That means protecting our air, water and resources, retaining a pluralistic democracy ''with institutional checks and balances,'' meeting ''30-year challenges'' in education and health care and ''smoothing out the business cycle'' with both monetary and fiscal tools.

Clark glibly lists these objectives, and many more, without suggesting any priorities of effort. And he makes no attempt to explain how any American leader could effectively reconcile so many conflicting ambitions and sovereignties. His self-confidence seems rooted in his experience as commander of the NATO forces that bombed and pacified Kosovo in 1999, a headstrong performance that enlarged his faith in international collaborations while it poisoned his relations with peers and superiors at the Pentagon.
(0) comments

The Quattrone Mistrial

The Wall Street Journal editorializes:

Assorted legal sages are fretting that the mistrial means the public won't punish as many corporate miscreants as they once hoped, but we think the fault here lies more with the case prosecutors chose to bring. They did not indict the former investment banker for crimes associated with investment banking. Presumably they never found enough evidence on those matters to indict him with.

Instead, they brought charges of obstruction and witness tampering ....

Most of the criminal indictments coming out of the recent corporate scandals are not of this ilk, fortunately. The Enron, Tyco, Adelphia and WorldCom cases all involve some kind of business or financial fraud that is a matter of fundamental corporate honesty. The exception, also brought by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, is the charge against Martha Stewart for obstruction of justice rather than the insider trading for which she was being investigated. Her lawyers have to be cheered by the Quattrone mistrial.

I agree with the Journal as to the relative strength of the Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom and Stewart cases.

But why does the Journal need to be reminded that the Justice Department did not destroy Arthur Andersen with charges of securities or accounting fraud in the Enron case. Presumably they never found enough evidence on those matters to indict it with. Instead, they brought charges of obstruction and witness tampering .... The Andersen jury also split - and only "convicted" improperly on inconsistent theories. The damage was done - although the conviction should be reversed on appeal.

As for the highest Enron officers themselves, the New Yorker has explained:

Almost two years after the fall of Enron, it appears increasingly likely that [Kenneth] Lay and [Jeffrey] Skilling will never face criminal charges," Jeffrey Toobin reports in "End Run at Enron." The Enron investigation, he suggests, "has been a demonstration of the limits of criminal law." Lay and Skilling have eluded prosecution because of "the complexity of the corporate enterprise they built; the overlapping and sometimes competing investigations of the company; and the reluctance of witnesses to come forward." One investigator tells Toobin, "Every other white-collar case in history is arithmetic. Enron is calculus." The trouble is that "first, we have to explain it to ourselves, so that we know what was going on. Then we have to figure out if it's illegal. Then we have to figure out how to persuade a jury that it's illegal. And then we have to figure out how to explain why it's illegal even though the accountants and the lawyers said it was O.K." Andrew Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer and the highest-ranking company official to face indictment so far, is not cooperating with the government, although his wife has also been indicted. "In Prosecution 101, Fastow should have cooperated a long time ago," the investigator says. "But he hasn't." While the Enron task force "has made steady progress against mid-level players," Toobin writes, in the end, "prosecutors may be able to show only that Lay and Skilling presided over a culture where...pervasive dishonesty flourished?—which is not, in any legal sense, a crime.....The sad truth of the criminal-justice system is that when everyone is guilty, no one is.

And if, as the Journal intones, the cases against the highest Enron officers all involve some kind of business or financial fraud that is a matter of fundamental corporate honesty, why did the SEC and the Justice Department settle with the very New York banks that created and fully understood the supposedly "fraudulent" structures that Enron perpetrated - without any admission of guilt or culpability on the banks' part? The banks got off scott free singing the old Tom Leher song:

"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun."

A matter of fundamental corporate honesty, indeed.
(0) comments

Confessing to Love to Hate

The New York Times confesses - on its own behalf and on behalf of many agitated liberals - that for these people (to use Paul Krugman's dreadful and unintentionally hilarious term, but with a different referent):

Hatred is delicious.

There. It was at least forthright of the Times to admit to that.

The Times (through its avatar and writer, James Traub), goes on to ask:

Why are so many liberals, including sane and sober ones, granting themselves permission to hate the president? And this in turn is related to a political question: How is it that Howard Dean has built a (so far) wildly successful campaign for the Democratic nomination for president on ressentiment?

The proffered answer: Liberals don't like President Bush's policies, the things Newt Gingrich once said, or what Bill Clinton's more heated critics said. The "He started it, mom!" excuse. Of course, I had thought that Dr. Dean was running on resentment, where Mr. Traub points out that ressentiment is what's really at stake. So what do I know? It is interesting that afflicted liberals have progressed from characterizing their policy differences with Mr. Bush as lies on his part to characterizing their policy differences with Mr. Bush as justification for hating him. Perhaps in some therapeutic sense that progression represents progress.

Mr. Traub circles far out into the liberal ozone layer - including offering what must be one of the most bizarre dismissals ever of decades of Ted Kennedy's venom and the entire Robert Bork affair, an affair that all by itself clearly deflates his entire apology and causal nexus. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Traub's description of one Bush "outrage" that, to Mr. Traub's mind, justifies hating the President of the United States:

I had forgotten, for example, until David Corn reminded me, that President Bush contemptuously dismissed his own E.P.A.'s 268-page study admitting that global warming posed a grave threat to this country by saying, ''I read the report put out by the bureaucracy.''

And one must certainly admire the cheek, or question the self-insight and perhaps the reason, of somebody who could write such a thing and also describe himself as being of hopelessly moderate temperament. Nabokov couldn't have committed to paper anything more droll.

Everybody feels hatred from time to time. For example, no doubt Mother Theresa felt it more than most. She saw a lot of outrageous injustice - and no doubt regularly expressed remorse and asked God through her confessor to foregive her resulting hatred of the perpetrators and their acts. But Mr. Traub does not ask to be forgiven. His is a confession without remorse - the kind that makes the judge impose an exceptionally severe sentence. Similarly, Mr. Traub's closing observations resemble the thoughts of one watching an approaching train from a car that straddles the tracks:

It's satisfying; but I don't see how it can be a good thing, either for public debate or ultimately for the electoral prospects of the Democrats ...

Mr. Traub gets that right. The inability to contain, control, conceal and repudiate one's hatred is generally considered to be highly inconsistent with suitability for public office - unless the justification for the hatred is vastly more serious than anything described by Mr. Traub.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, on the question of provocation, there is also the issue of whether Democrats and liberals are often hearing things that weren't said and seeing things that weren't there.

(0) comments