Metadata
 
Ben A.
Ben H.
Doug
Later
     
 
Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Doug, your presence in France may compromise your psychic connection with the American General Will.

[Ben H.: 9/3/04 15:56]
 
 
Zell Miller

For the record, he's a Democrat! [Ben H.: 9/3/04 12:43]
 
   
I guess it comes down to how well the counterattack is presented. If Kerry comes off as shrill, then sure, it will backfire. But if he somehow manages to appear calm, forceful, and self-assured (like Bush) and to point to facts that back him up (unlike Bush), it could help -- especially since the Republicans' main charge against him is that he doesn't defend when attacked. To be silent in the face of these rhetorical attacks would support the GOP charge that he would be silent in the face of physical attacks on the U.S., so I think there is more danger in not responding. (However, it's not the Vietnam charges in particular that he should focus on; it's the charge of being unpatriotic and wanting to undermine the military. It sounds -- or rather reads -- as though he made a good start last night; maybe the transcript hides the shrillness.)

On the relative negativity of the campaigns, I think you are just wrong; there was nothing televised from Boston that had anywhere near the hysterical anger of Zell Miller's speech. (Speaking of shrillness backfiring.) Many of the speeches were almost eerie in their refusal to mention the president. Whereas the Republican speeches almost all went after Kerry directly. (And this after the GOP had criticized the negative tone of the Dem convention -- not that anyone expects anything other than hypocrisy from today's GOP.) Of course, off in the wings, the kooky elements of both parties will say kooky things, as your link shows. I think the best measure is what the parties choose to put on TV. [Doug: 9/3/04 11:44]
 
 
Convention

I'll admit I'm at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to assessing the convention. Since I was in the UK, I read most of the major speeches (including Bush's this morning) rather than watch them on TV. In so doing, I expect I missed some of the tenor of the gathering. However, just based on what I read, it seemed a lot less hysterical or angry than the Democratic convention. Bush's speech in particular seemed a lot simpler, calmer, and less histrionic than Kerry's. Zell Miller's speech was a bit barbed, but, again, falls far short in its acerbity than stuff I hear from the Dems (see my Congressman, Major Owen's comments today, for instance).

"Cowards and liars?" Doug, are you trying to contend with me for the crown of most contumelious poster on this site? Or maybe you are kindly trying to make my rhetoric seem less extreme by raising the vitriol level around it? As a practical matter, Kerry's response to Cheney is exactly what the Republicans want. Our first glimpse of the Democratic candidate after the Republican convention has him screechingly making his case for office on the basis of Vietnam. Whatever Kerry's merits as a leader (I prefer Bush, but I think Kerry would not do a terrible job), there is no case to be made for his, or any other man's, worthiness for office that starts with his performance for a brief period thirty years ago in Vietnam. Kerry will not win on this case. To the extent he spends his time and money counterpunching over Vietnam, he will lose, and badly. [Ben H.: 9/3/04 09:38]
 
   
Thanks for the explanations, Ben -- I can't say I understood it all, but I'm not quite so eager to run out and get a mortgage now.

I got into Paris today. You know what? Everything they said at the Republican convention was true! I saw John Kerry at lunch, receiving his orders from the French ministers and The Terrorists!

Seriously, I caught some of the convention on TV on Wednesday, and I was surprised by the level of hysterical anger. I think they're really scared of losing to Kerry (which would genuinely be embarrassing). And to Kerry's credit, he seems to be coming out swinging, denouncing the cowards and liars who slandered him this week. I want to see him in a new commercial looking straight at the camera: "You think my views are too nuanced? How about this: George Bush is a coward and a liar."

As for Plato's Laws -- I'll try to find a copy here.
[Doug: 9/3/04 08:54]
 
 
Asian Central Banks

THe Asian Cenbanks are not as stupid as you think. China has built up nearly $500bio in reserves, mostly parked in US govies and agencies. THis is clearly not an optimal portfolio allocation. However, the PBOC is not in the business of portfolio optimization. The Chinese government, a despotism, rides the tiger. The key to keeping the tiger quiescent is to absorb more people into the industrial laborforce (they need to absord something like 100mio a year). The way to do this is to keep 1) an undervalued CNY and 2) unfettered access to the US markets. The Chinese achieve both ends by blindly buying dollars and dollar-based assets. They keep CNY artificially cheap (which promotes export-led, employment intensive growth) and they strike an implicit "bargain" with the U.S. -- we refrain from protectionism against those countries that fund our current account balance*. This has long been my thesis. I feel more confident of it having read a more subtle and convincing articulation of it by Michael Dooley of UC Santa Cruz (paper referred to here, though i can't find free link to the actual paper).

Another model of the accumulation of foreign claims on the U.S. suggests that we look not at gross debt, but at net claims. Quite a lot of foreign capital pouring into the U.S. effectively funds investments by U.S. entities abroad. For example: Arab sheiks deposit cash in US banks; those US banks fund projects like Ras Laffan (Qatar's LNG project). Or an example closer to home: rich Argentines invest in Ben's hedge fund; Ben's fund turns around and invests in Argentine agricultural land. Effectively, the U.S. is performing the role of the world's crossing guard for capital flows -- we are the best judges of capital allocation, have the best legal framework, etc. Take a look at a typical financial haven (say Uruguay in the 90s) and you see absolutely terrifying gross foreign claims. However, much of it representing capital that comes in one door and goes straight back out the other.

But let's take your point, Doug, and assume that we face a cut off in capital flows AND that this requires a huge fall in the dollar to equilibrate (I don't agree entirely with either premise; the level of the dollar may not be the most important factor in the US current account deficit; should the capital flows cut off, we may discover that the current account deficit is largely driven by capital account "push" factors). THe pass-through from devaluation to inflation in the U.S. is quite low. We are a rather closed economy. Take a look at the move in EURUSD from 0.82 to 1.25 -- did that lead to a massive inflationary spike? Nope. You also ignore another route how our claims could be fulfilled. THink back to the 1980s. Remember how Japan was going to own America due to our huge bilateral current account deficit? So how did we deal with all those claims? Let's see: we sold the Japanese Rockerfeller Center for billions and bought it back at hundreds of millions. Same for Colombia Pictures. Same for a bunch of famous high art. Same for property all over the country. Same for stocks pre and post 1987. We inflicted investment losses. The same thing could happen to Asia this time around, both in their U.S. bond investments and other investments.

Household debt is a slightly different story. One should indeed take account of the concomitant growth in household assets, yet even so doing, household debt has reached unprecedented levels. The fact of the matter is that greater financial markets sophistication has led to a steady increase in the amount of debt that households are capable of carrying. It's not clear that just because debt levels are unprecendented, they are unsistainable. But assume we've gotten ourselves in a pickle. Low real interest rates are one way out of the trap -- meaning some combination of higher inflation and lower nominal interest rates. What do you think the Fed has been doing the past two years? Who loses in this case? Well, it isn't the vaunted "middle class" that you so worry about. The poor aren't good enough credit risks to accumulate large debts. The rich have assets, not debts. So the "middle class" gets a free ride, paid for first by saps like me who have saved most of our income in the form of USD financial assets; and second, by foreigners who will face losses on their USD financial portfolios. Possibly the poor may chip in because their have an asset (their earning power) which may also be erodes by inflation. Wages may not keep pace with inflation. THey have no giant 30-year mortage to inflate away to ease the pain.

An aside: the national (government) debt is not "huge beyond comprehension". As a share of GDP is it well below the American peak, even the American peak of the last 10 years. As a fraction of GDP is it far below Japan, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and pretty much the entire of "Old Europe", save weird places like Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. For context on the absolutely staggering levels of debt/GDP (well in excess of three times today's U.S. ratio) that governments were able to succesfully carry in times of lower financial sophistication, greater volatility of economic output, and lower global financial integration, see this excellent book. The thing to worry about is "off balance-sheet" debt, like our social security and Medicare actuarial deficit. But there's a great thing about these "implicit debts". THey aren't really debts. A country can repudiate them without damaging its credit. One day, we'll just cut SOcial Security benefits and the U.S. national credit will still be sterling. This is one reason why, Republican though i am, I am very leery of SOcial Security partial privitization. If all these "individual contributions" go into government bonds, all that has been accomplished is to make an implicit debt explicit. Ricardo Hausmann argues convincingly that this sunk Argentina; I believe it may sink Mexico in about 10-15 years.

*UPDATE: I should add that this strategy relies on financial repression -- the kind of financial repression that only a government that can resort to other kinds of repression can sustain. Free economic agents would see through the fact that their savings are ultimately backed by an overly concentrated, vulnerable portfolio of U.S. govies and agencies. But in China, people aren't free to invest wherever they want, and often aren't free to consume rather than save. There is no way that China (in aggregate) is going to realize their massive claims on the U.S. by turning them into "stuff" at nearly the rate of exchange between U.S. bonds and "stuff" in China that prevails today. (Most likely, the Chinese real exchange rate will appreciate massively over the next few years). However, given that we are talking about an unfree society, the Chinese government may well ask its people: "what are you gonna do about it?"

**UPDATE II: Dooley makes the excellent point that the real loser in this China strategy is Europe. European Central Banks are more sensible asset allocators, and they're not about to accumulate enormous portfolios of USD bonds. In any case, they don't have the tools of financial repression to do it even if they wanted to. As a result, EUR appreciates massively, and European exporters lose huge market share in the U.S. to China (and Asian bloc more broadly). [Ben H.: 9/3/04 06:54]
 
 
Book Club

Anyone interested in Plato's Laws? [Ben A.: 9/3/04 00:44]
   
 
Cavalry is Coming to Sarajevo Soonest

A good discussion of the foreign policy approaches of the two candidates. And of course, by a "good" discussion I mean one which closely matches my beliefs. It also contains a gem-like desription of "Clintonista" orientation to foreign affairs:

Send mixed (but jingo!) signals borne of confusion and amateurism (the cavalry is coming to Sarajevo soonest!) [Ben A.: 9/3/04 00:43]
   
     
   
Speaking of chardonnay-swilling pansies who'd sell America to the terrorists for a handful of baby arugula, I'm off to France for a few weeks.

In the meantime, Slate provides the most succinct case against Bush that I've seen. No, he's not the bloodsucking fiend Dracula, but he is the worse of the two candidates.

Another interesting thing that Slate's been noting is the huge runup in national and household debt, and the fact that both parties are ignoring it. The Republicans ignore it because they're responsible for it, and the Democracts ignore it because the Republicans would squeal, "See! They want to raise taxes!". I take it as given that, except for Kerry's pledge to roll back Bush's giveaway to the super-rich, neither party will even suggest tax hikes for at least 15 years. The national debt will keep getting bigger, but it's already huge beyond comprehension, so no alarm bells will go off. The question is what happens if our creditors -- who over the last decade or two have been weighted more and more to Asian central banks, I understand -- decide they don't want to keep rolling over the loans. How will we pay them back? You could try raising interest rates to the point where they'd renew the loans after all, but then where would we get the money to service all the high-interest debt? I see no other answer except "print more money". Inflation will skyrocket, so it could be politcally risky, but there is a factor that mitigates that risk: all the U.S. household debt. Joe Sixpack won't like paying 50% more for his beer, but if simultaneously he becomes 33% less indebted for his SUV purchase, I think he'll be happy enough to keep voting Republican. The real losers will be the Asian central banks and other foreign holders of US debt, whom U.S. politicians would screw in a heartbeat.

Upshot: buy real assets and borrow dollars.

Am I right?

(I ask because, if we do indeed decide as a nation that we want to eliminate the middle class, I'd like to be on the sunny pleasant side of the divide.)

[Doug: 9/2/04 16:04]
 
 
#5

I think you're on to something, Ben. Let me offer up a collateral observation. The charitably inclined among us at one time acted directly on their cause: working in a soup kitchen, planting trees, whatever. Over time, more and more of their energies have gone to lobbying to have the government perform these activities. If one addresses problems in this context, namely a political context, one cannot help seeing them as problems of social justice (as opposed to problems of nutrition or deforestation, or whatever).

Back to your first question. Is partisan vehemence worse than ten years ago? I read your initial claim more narrowly and responded as such. I don't think partisan vitriol has gotten worse, so much as that the spirit of partisanship has extended in range. Whatever has been claimed of George Bush is no worse than what was claimed of Bill Clinton. The difference is who is making the claims and where they are being made. I don't recall ever seeing someone excommunicated from the broad Church of the Cocktail Party for denouncing Bill Clinton. The anti-Clinton doucmentaries never made it past mail-order videocassette distribution. [Ben H.: 9/2/04 10:00]
 
 
The Best Grade School Ever

It just struck me; Doug was the phrase "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" really drilled into you in grade school? Isn't that Burke? You went to the most awesome grade school ever!

Addendum: Hold up. It turns out it isn't Burke at all, but rather a (notorious) misquoting of Burke! It seems that the pasage that started it all was "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Not the same thing at all (and rather worse). The internet: I learn something new everyday! And some days it isn't even about Malaysian foot fetishists... [Ben A.: 9/2/04 00:05]
   
 
Explaining the Current Level of Partisan Vehemence

First question: is it really worse now than ten years ago? As you guys know, I am not convinced of this. Anecdotally, I would agree that the blue culture seems unusually aggrieved, but then, metro culture is out of power, and confronted daily with a particularly infuriating retro exemplar in the person of the president. Perhaps red culture is relatively hate free these days -- I sure as hell wouldn’t know.

But let’s ignore the possibility of sample bias, and assume that both red and blue are purple with rage. What could account for this? On the table we have (and pardon if by truncating I misrepresent):

1. The Doug hypothesis: The narcissism of small differences. People desire to identify with a party, and absent major policy differences must exalt what remains: culture.
2. The Ben H hypothesis: rage increases during pivot points. The country has shifted GOP big time (witness, majority party in the house), and radical change inflames emotions of both winners and losers.

Let me add three more candidates:

3. The fragmentation of common culture. Costs of entry to mass communication have decreased, making it easier to cocoon yourself in a fact-universe of your own choosing. This leads to misunderstanding and irritation at seemingly crazy beliefs held by residents of other fact universes. [maybe we also want to say that increased levels of wealth allows people to do what they have always wanted to do, namely, avoid those with different backgrounds, ideas, and values]

4. The decline of basic civility. The country seems increasingly populated by crude, ill-mannered jerks. Fenway Park was never welcoming, but one did not, ten years ago, see shirts reading “Yankees Suck, Jeter Swallows.” 70s radio had its shock jocks, but nothing as uniformly coarse as Stern or Opie and Anthony. As goes the culture, so goes politics.

5. The fall of Deontology. After I wrote this, it seemed crazy. So I've briefly summarized for you guys to comment. Basically, the idea is that people increasingly use their roles in society to pursue "final ends." Doctors aren't content to heal, journalists to report, or professors to teach. Instead, everyone thinks their job is to create a more just society. This leads the abandonment of professional codes of conduct in favor of direct action towards the comprehsnsive good.* Since in addition to everyone being closet utilitarians, everyone is also secular, seeking the comprehensive good means the practice of politics. Thus, every field becomes politicized (so there's no sanctuary from it), and the stakes of politics go up.

* Probably the practice of law is paradigmatic here. Judges aren't content to interpret the law; now they must make law. [Ben A.: 9/1/04 19:10]
   
     
   
I think you're totally right, Ben, and the explanation probably has to do with the disappearance of other party-differentiators. Post-Cold-War, post-Clinton, both parties stand for restraining the government's size (in theory), expanding it rapidly (in practice), destroying terrorists, etc. All that's left is the "metro-vs.-retro" distinction. [Doug: 9/1/04 10:14]
 
 
I have the same experience, Ben. The odd part of it is that I get the horrified responses not only among Bernie's academic set, but even among many finance people I know through work. The political vitriol does not arise from naked self-interest, which would likely inspire those who work in finance to support Bush. Rather, the shock and disgust we get from our interlocutors is entirely a matter of cultural identification. To say that one is a Bush supporter at a New York or Cambridge party is kind of like announcing one's semitic roots at a gathering of Cossacks. Coastal elites define themselves as cosmopolitan, educated, enlightened, and tolerant. Sneering at Bush supporters is a short-hand way of distinguishing oneself as against the parochial, uneducated, benighted, bigoted masses. I'm sure that if we had been out socially in 1972, we would have gotten the same reaction had we announced our support for Nixon. However, in 1972 the prospective Nixon administration portended policies very different from those of a McGovern administration, such that the self-interest of your average coastal eliter would argue for plumping for McGovern. The question remains why people are so passionate these days about declaring their cultural allegiance. Do you guys have any ideas? Perhaps we have reached a cultural inflection point; throughout the 90s the trend, prevailing since the late 60s, of mounting relativism / libertinism (call it what you will -- you know what I mean) decelerated. Today it may actually start to reverse, which inspires a sense of triumphalism among its opponents and panic among its proponents. Your views, gentlemen?

***

The shock at my support for Bush extends -- and this I find particularly annoying -- to foreigners. As a result of my work, I face this annoyance with some frequency. One of the measures of a succesful society is that its members can afford to largely ignore politics. Relying on politics as the organizing principal of one's social life is sad; to do so on the basis of some other country's politics is pathetic. Now, in the course of my job, I need to form opinions about political parties and figures in many countries. Yet these judgments proceed from purely intellectual and instrumental premises, as opposed to strong emotions. And I would never presume to instruct a Venezuelan or an Argentine as to the correctness of his political affiliation. Yet I have been at more than one dinner, finding myself being hectored by a Venezuelan or Argentine about George Bush. The relative merits of the two candidates as regards their policy towards Latin America remain completely unknown. Your average Venezuelan or Argentine has no self-interested reason to prefer one to the other. American culture demonstrates its hegemony yet again. Even foreigners are using our political figures as lodestars for social self-definition.

[Ben H.: 9/1/04 05:43]
 
 
Sympathy For The Devil

Outside of the conversations with my intimate friends, I try to follow Dale Carnegie's advice and avoid matters of public controversy. This is getting much, much harder, as "politics", or rather, untrammelled partisan kvetching, has become casual conversation. Indeed, it's rare for a social event not to involve an interrogation of my political bona fides.

And, of course when asked who I support, I dissapoint. That's not new for me in my Cambridge/Ivy/Jewish* circle. What is new is the level of incredulity bordering on horror I've noted during a spate of weddings and parties. Confessing myself as a Bush supporter generates the reponse I might exxpcet had I said instead: "Dracula. I am suporting the blood-sucking fiend Dracula."

Do you think Van Buren supporters had to deal with this?


*Although the Jews, from my informal sample, are trending Bush big time. [Ben A.: 8/31/04 20:03]
   
 
Now I'm Sweating!

What's going on?! The role of August swooners belongs to the Red Sox, not the Yankees! Have we passed into the Bizarro World?

Luckily, the September schedule is as kind to the Yankees and it is cruel to the Red Sox... [Ben H.: 8/31/04 20:02]
 
 
Nervous Now?

But on to a happier topic. After tonight, I boldly predict, the Yanks will be up only 3.5. [Ben A.: 8/31/04 19:55]
   
 

I knew you were hyperbolizing, Ben H, hence my response by way of the over-the-top homage to a yet more over-the-top poem. And certainly, don't take me as any defender of the tolerance evinced by Arab political culture or the Arab press. Both are dreadful, and will need to be reconstructed from the ground up. I am not concerned about the thin skins of jihadist Imams in Syria, or of the Arab street that greets news of terrorist attacks by tossing candy. [Ben A.: 8/31/04 19:52]
   
 
Oh, come now, I;m being facetious. In another context, joking about mass sterilization might well be considered crass (even by the standards of 19th-century American campaigning). However, I think it fair to ascribe a thicker skin to the targets of this raillery. That the Arab press refers (just to take a random example) to people like you and me, Ben, as "sons of pigs and monkeys" and calls for our people's extermination, suggests to me that they are a thick-skinned bunch, given to an unusually acidulous sense of humor. I mean, they must be joking, right, since theirs is a religion of peace, whose adherents wouldn't seriously pursue such aims?

[Ben H.: 8/31/04 19:22]
 
   
I apologize for that outburst, but coming into work and checking the news and seeing that kind of butchery is hard not to respond to. Also, let's talk about those "moderate Arabs". A phrase that was drilled into my throughout grade school was "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." You can't find a more perfect display of doing nothing than among the moderate Arabs. They sit by while their co-religionists turn murder into a de facto sacrament. They sit by while their news media smile acquiescently at the murders. Here, for once, I think the specific content of Islam is to blame: the word "Islam" itself means submission to God; to say "inshallah" with a shrug of the shoulders seems to be the height of Muslim piety. So on the one hand you have good Muslims preaching quiescence, and on the other you have evil Muslims committing butchery. Not a good situation. I don't actually advocate mass-sterilization. I'd only point out that lamentation would be brief and mild were this civilization to disappear forever. [Doug: 8/31/04 15:32]
 
     
 
Homage
Who treat the Muslim creed with spite?
Who mock the moderate Arab’s plight?
Who make my wife avoid this site?
You guys! You guys!

Whose hearts pump only blood that’s cold,
And thick with malice uncontrolled,
Thus making me a tiresome scold?
You guys! You guys!
[Ben A.: 8/31/04 13:19]
   
 
We could not be sure that Arab Muslims were truly incapable of democracy until we tried to bring it to them. We have done so and the result supports your view, Doug, that it was a lunatic idea. I still think toppling Saddam was all for the good. After all, would he have carried out the mass sterilization campaign that you and I now agree must get underway forthwith? [Ben H.: 8/31/04 10:49]
 
   
So now the Iraqis are mass-murdering those imperialist Nepalese. Ben H, if I admit that Arab Muslims are monsters to whom we should administer mass sterilization, will you admit that "bringing them democracy" was a lunatic idea? [Doug: 8/31/04 10:02]
 
     
 
Now That's A Campaign Ad!

William H. Harrison vs. Martin Van Buren:

Who rules us with an iron rod?
Who moves at Satan's beck and nod?
Who heeds not man, who heeds not God?
Van Buren, Van Buren!

Who would his friends, his country sell
Do other deeds too base to tell
Deserves the lowest place in hell
Van Buren, Van Buren!

Via volokh [Ben A.: 8/30/04 16:58]
   
 
Work-Life Balance: A Sad Commentary

I can walk the streets of my own neighborhood for days without meeting anybody I know. Yet every time I come to London, it seems, I very quickly run into business counterparties. I emerged from my hotel after checking in yesterday in order to take a leisurely stroll. Five minutes later, I found myself on Regent Street when suddenly a familiar voice hailed me. It was the Eastern Europe trader from one of the major banks here. We exchanged pleasantries and he invited me around the corner for a surprise. There, I found his shopping companions for the day, two other Eastern Europe traders for two other banks. I was put in mind of what Adam Smith wrote:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
[Ben H.: 8/30/04 09:57]
 
   
I'm not attending any protests here in NYC, but I did break down and buy a "Kerry" button, doing my part to make GOP conventioneers (with the exception of my uncle) feel unwelcome. The exploitation of New York's 9/11 trauma in support of policies most New Yorkers find abhorrent is ... well, it's shameful, but you also have to admit that it's brilliant. The GOP masterminds really are impressive. I was thinking the other day about their appeasement strategy in Iraq: let the fundamentalist armies control their cities and build their power, don't really engage them until after the election, making it seem like the situation is not spinning out of control. Of course, the longer you wait before eradicating the "Mahdi army" and the Fallujah barbarians, the more power they will accumulate, and the more total the catastrophe will be in a few months. But as long as "a few" is more than two, Bush's chances aren't damaged. Like I said, brilliant. It brings to mind Jerry's comment to Kramer: "If only you could put your mind to something worthwhile. You’re like Lex Luthor."
[Doug: 8/30/04 09:29]
 
 
(Mild) Child Abuse

Perhaps this is what leftist New Yorkers take "No Child Left Behind" to mean. To enlist young children in political action strikes me as both pointless and disconcerting. The very young tykes obviously have no concept of what they are doing. The baby wearing theT-shirt I saw on sale recently in Brooklyn -- it reads "I already know more than the President" -- functions as little more than an unusual placards. I find it distasteful to treat one's baby as a placard, but I suppose I could make the same criticism of parents who dress their kids in gratuitously expensive "designer logo" baby clothes. Worse, I think, are the parents who push their kids into spending time performing crudely staged propaganda, like the Kids for Kerry agitprop> at the DNC. (Right-wing activists are no doubt guilty of the same transgressions against good taste and good sense, but living in Brooklyn I have not witnessed them) I doubt any ten or twelve-year old attempts to or succeeds at writing political opinion pieces in newspapers or addressing political gatherings sua sponte. Now, parents push their children all the time, but the responsible ones do so to further the child's long-term goals, not their own. And, really, what's the point? Has any newspaper reader or television viewer decided to change his vote based on the exhortations of a tween?

In the end, I think these politically abusive parents may find their manipulations boomeranging on them. The founders of the neocon movement were largely red-diaper babies. Two words for the smug leftist stroller-pushing activists of Brooklyn: David Horowitz! [Ben H.: 8/28/04 20:34]
 
 
Genius [Ben A.: 8/27/04 03:10]
   
 
Outta Here

New York is set to become a madhouse as the RNC rolls into town. Notwithstanding Ben A's benign experience of Boston during the DNC, I leave for London Saturday night in order to work out of our office there during the convention. I certainly felt a temptation to stay around to taunt protesters (from behind a protective screen of police), but in view of the security, I might not even be able to make it out of Brooklyn without a tremendous effort. Besides, much as I wish the Republicans great success, I also want to make sure all of Bloomberg's preposterous predictions of an economic bonanza are proved deliriously wrong. Joining the mass exodus I see shaping up should contribute in some small way to that goal. THe mayor will have a more difficult time justifying a 2012 Olympic boondoggle if the convention, hyped as a similar boon for the city, turns out to be a financial disaster. [Ben H.: 8/26/04 16:36]
 
 
Doug, you have hit on an astute way to enforce mobile phone etiquette. The city could raise the cost of unbridled cellular blabbery by erecting locking-posts at random intervals along sidewalks. On a generational scale, Inconsiderate Cellphone Man would die out, since those disposed to ignore the pain of collisions with the locking-posts would probably be rendered sterile by repeated impacts. [Ben H.: 8/26/04 16:25]
 
   
Speaking of awkward ambulation, you know those horseshoe-shaped sidewalk fixtures for locking bikes to? This morning I saw some guy, talking on his hands-free cellphone, walk crotch-first into one of them.

Secondly, I saw a big version of the "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" movie poster. I doubt I'll see the movie, but I have to hand it to the poster designer. Turning Jesus's two-finger blessing into a machine pistol is sheer genius. [Doug: 8/26/04 09:14]
 
     
 
You should see Amish NASCAR [Ben A.: 8/26/04 08:42]
   
 
Heck, I Can't Run 100-Meters, Period!

That said, were I born a woman in a little village in Bahrain, I would probably have made it my business to run fast, as a matter of self-preservation. [Ben H.: 8/26/04 07:22]
 
 
Readers Speak Out

"None of you could run an 11.49 buck naked."

True. And it would look much worse. [Ben A.: 8/25/04 20:54]
   
 
The Olympic Spirit, Gulf-style



Sharia makes no allowances for aerodynamics, apparently, which is suprising what with all we hear about how the Arabs are the fons et origo of all science. This Bahraini competitor looks a bit discombobulated, which may result from her confusion over the starting gun. In the Gulf qualifiers they just have the starter yell out: "your husband is displeased with you! Here he comes!" [Ben H.: 8/24/04 10:13]
 
 
Explainer Pre-Empted

I think the idea behind stealing un-saleable art such as The Scream is that the theives will attempt to ransom the loot back to the owners. The alternative - less plausible - is that it has been stolen at the behest of a rich, secretive, megalomaniacal art-lover, who will admire the painting in his lair as he strokes his pet cat. Since James Bond has dispatched most of the candidates in this latter category, I will stick with my first explanation. [Ben H.: 8/24/04 10:02]
 
   
I sent this to "The Explainer" at slate.com:

"How do you make money stealing instantly recognizable art? I can see stealing Munch's "The Scream" just for kicks, but to whom can you sell it?"

Or maybe you guys have an idea?

Incidentally, I probably won't be posting much this week, since I've set myself the Friday deadline to finish a draft of my book. [Doug: 8/24/04 08:27]
 
 
Stolen Scream

Munch's much merchandized masterpiece swiped!

No worries, though. I suggest the Norwegians just take a photo of me any Monday morning as I wake up and realize I have to go to work. [Ben H.: 8/23/04 08:17]
 
 
Professional Amateurism

I see a bright future for Alan Keyes. He could make a career as the sort of one-man, electoral Washington Generals. Uncontested races are unhealthy for democracy. Whenever the democrats have an insuperable edge such that a candidate cannot be recruited, send in Alan Keyes! [Ben H.: 8/21/04 12:07]
 
 
Define: "Amateurish" [Ben A.: 8/20/04 16:41]
   
 
But I Won't Deny: The Insipid Part is Important!

Krauthammer today, on opposition to the troop withdrawal plan:

The New York Times editorial page offered this reason for maintaining the status quo: Otherwise, "the military will also lose the advantage that comes with giving large numbers of its men and women the experience of living in other cultures." Seventy-thousand GIs parked in Stuttgart, practicing their German and listening to Wagner. Finally, a military deployment the New York Times can support.

Haw Haw! [Ben A.: 8/20/04 16:04]
   
 
An Important Refinement!

I am a commited lower case republican, in the sense of endorsing a robust sense of civic virtue and obligation. This cuts little ice in partisan terms, of course, and I have never thought of myself much as a party man.

Whence then my loyalty to the Administration? Two points. First, "loyalty" is a function of what one can defect to. John McCain ain't walking through that door. It's Bush or Kerry. On this choice, someone commented that picking Bush over Kerry means taking clear goals and poor execution over vague goals and good execution. I would in fact make that choice. All the more so as I don't think, as noted earlier that Kerry is merely vague. He, personally, has been wrong on most of the major foreign policy judgment calls of the past 20 years. Will the man who opposed action in Grenada be the man to pull Iraq out of the fire? My assessment: no.

Second, (and I know this will merely irritate you, Doug) I feel poorly placed to judge accusations of administration "bungling" on Iraq and Afghanistan. This was a major endeavor, and major elements went wrong. But major elements went right too: Taliban gone, Saddam gone, no humanitarian catastrophe, no succesful revolt against friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. So while history's first draft has been eagerly churned out on this topic, I will withold judgment.

As you have gathered from the above, on domestic policy, I don't much care. Either will be bad in their own way. [Ben A.: 8/20/04 15:34]
   
     
   
Hypothesis Refined

What those two factors explains is not Ben A's Republicanism -- which in its primary sense just means "sobriety", something I support myself -- but his faithfulness to the W. Bush administration. [Doug: 8/20/04 09:34]
 
   
Hypothesis

Ben A's Republicanism is attributable to his living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to the phenomenon noticed by our friend Friedrich: "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." [Doug: 8/19/04 13:17]
 
     
 
Fight the Power! [Ben A.: 8/19/04 12:24]
   
 
Goethe Misrepresentation

I think there was some cock-up. That cover was meant not for the Goethe book, but for the DVD of the German Romantic porn flick The Sore Ass of Young Werther. [Ben H.: 8/18/04 07:55]
 
   
Contestants For The Dishonest Sexing Up Of Literature Award

Found this in my email:

    Oprah's Book Club: Summer Lovin' in Part Six of 'Anna Karenina'

You may remember Part Six as the section where a bunch of dull aristocratic men get together to hobnob and elect a provincial marshal -- if you stayed awake through it at all, that is. It's the only one of the eight parts that is boring; Tolstoy should have cut it, and Oprah should have leveled with us and told us to skip it. The only good thing about Oprah misleading her school onto these shoals is that it increases the feasability of my U.S. energy-independence program: Build power plants to burn all the remaindered and discarded Oprah editions of Anna Karenina.

Then there's the cover Ben H and I saw at the bookstore the other day:



The only book for which this would make a less appropriate cover is the 9-11 commission report.

[Doug: 8/17/04 22:09]
 
     
 
Solomonic Wisdom

Spot on, Ben! The mysterious “Man Without Qualities” makes a similar point:

Ms. Solomon is herself a more rampant case than those who merely favor Kerry-Edwards "subconsciously." Here she interviews a scientist at a major research university - and terms herself surprised that he hasn't distorted the results of his scientific research to favor his pre-existing political view. One easily imagines her internal dialogue: "Gee," she seems to be saying to herself, "I think nothing of distorting the results of my journalistic investigations to favor my pre-existing political view. What's the matter with this guy? I'll bet he's a closet Republican!" And what to make of Ms. Solomon's stunned quiet at the end of the interview after the Professor observes that what he writes won't influence the election much because lots of people are writing. Can there be a more direct challenge to the write-it-and-they-will-come approach of so many mainstream liberal journalists? More internal Solomon dialogue: "I always assume I'm going to influence the outcome of what I write about substantially - that's why I distort what I write!"
[Ben A.: 8/17/04 14:21]
   
 
Deborah Solomon Reveals All

Ben, this Deborah Solomon piece is incredibly valuable. Well, one line is, though not for the reasons Deborah would recognize. After some playful demurral, Professor Fair reveals that he is a Kerry supporter, and Solomon in her reply reveals something about herself as well:

I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.

She is surprised about what exactly? That Fair would be, uh, fair? That he would publish his results if they conflict with his political leanings? That she so breezily suggests surprise at his intellectual honesty makes me feel even more confident that New York Times journalism is infected with partisan spirit. If she expresses disbelief that a professor of economics would report model results that might injure his presidential candidate, would she bat an eye at shading coverage to help her own?
[Ben H.: 8/17/04 13:23]
 
 
Weekly Bile Infusion

Enjoyed my weekly blood pressure spike courtesy of the NYT magazine this Sunday. This week provided a horrendous article on the folly of jailing criminals from the slumming Jim Holt. Amazingly, the word 'incapacitation' does not occur in the article, although we do get a reference to “recent studies” demonstrating the efficacy of rehabilitation, and a anecdote from a Finnish model prison. No, I am not making it up.

The highlight, as always, was Deborah Solomon’s interview. Again she came through like a trooper with a clueless, whiny, and vaguely hostile interview with a Yale economist Ray Fair, author of the “Fair Model” of election predictions. Of course, *none* of the interesting questions got asked -- how many variables do you really use? how many revisions did the model go through to fit it to the data? for how many elections has it been truly predictive as opposed to backward fitting? -- but we do learn that Solomon finds econometrics "sad" and opposed to "complex and meaningful" ways of approaching politics:

DS: In your book ''Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things,'' you claim that economic growth and inflation are the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on the election?

RF: Historically, issues like war haven't swamped the economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the chances that Bush loses are very small.

DS: But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.

RF: We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.

DS: It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.

RF: I will be teaching econometrics next year to undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is applied to all kinds of things.


“We throw all those into what we call the error term.” Snap! Do I sense a certain impatience from the good professor?

Addendum: Via the magic of the internet, I find almost identical points (although better! meaner! being made here
[Ben A.: 8/17/04 11:56]
   
 
Killing Pablo

Escobar certainly bestrode Colombia like a malignant Colossus, but the vulnerability of prominent public figures in that country to political violence predated and survives him. Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by the FARC while running for President in 2002. The Minister of Health and Labour, Juan Luis Londono* died in a plane crash, most likely brought down by FARC ground-fire.

*Harvard-educated, which usually in the Latin policy-maker context means "watch out"; but in Londono's case, the stereotype did not hold. He was smart, politically saavy, and by all accounts a great guy. The few times I met him, I was very impressed. Then FARC got him. Hey, what does Chris Dodd have to say about that? [Ben H.: 8/16/04 18:52]
 
 
Strike Me Down Now And I Will Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

This nice fellow suggests that whatever the solution in Najaf, the coalition must at all costs keep al-Sadr alive. To kill him would be to create a martyr, a risk the coalition can ill afford.

Let me abstract from the specifics of the Iraqi situation, as required by bandarlog policy, and ask generally: what do we think of arguments of this kind?

I'll tip my hand at the outset. I didn't believe this line when advanced by the Smoking Man on X-Files to explain the continued good health of Fox Mulder, and I don't believe it now. Here is the sad truth of human affairs: assassination works. Faced with determined, resourceful opposition? Kill the principle organizer and you have typically solved a large part of your problem.

Don't construe this as generic endorsement of violence as a solution to every problem, or an generalization of Ben H's dictum on blacksmith puzzles "force is always the answer." There are certainly cases of severe blowback. In Killing Pablo, Mark Bowden makes a good case that Pablo Escobar precipitated his downfall by orchestrating the murder of the Columbia's Justice Minister.* So not every political murder is prudent. On the broad point, however, there's little doubt that a historical survey supports the efficacy of assassination as a political tool.

Indeed, the point seems so obvious that what requires explanation is the psychology of those who deny it. The culprit seems to be a simple yearning for a better world. People don’t want assassination to be effective. I know I don’t. The whole idea that some murderous hoodlum can shift the course of history makes me sad. I would much prefer that vice were counterproductive, that victims triumphed over victimizers, and that violence redounded upon the heads of the perpetrators. And I would be far from the first to note how immensely appealing it is to believe this. Alas, it isn’t so.

Addendum: It’s telling, isn’t it, how rarely the “martyrdom” argument is advanced when the perpetrators are the perceived weaker party. For example, I doubt we would find anyone arguing that a successful Al Queda assassination of Hamid Karzai constituted “strategic defeat” for their cause. Rather, it would be seen (correctly) as an immense coup.

* This, as an aside, is a simply fascinating book. More later, perhaps. Also, how does that grab you as a testament to the enormity that was Pablo Escobar: he had his country's Justice minister killed.
[Ben A.: 8/16/04 18:34]
   
 
Avert Your Eyes: This Could Have Turned Hayek Communist...

...or made Thorstein Veblen blush: Vogue for the canine set. [Ben H.: 8/16/04 18:00]
 
 
Someone Send This To Charles McGrath

Tom Payne provides a handy guide to the language of book reviews. Good, as it goes, but where's the "loss, memory"? [Ben H.: 8/16/04 14:28]
 
 
Chavez "Wins" Referendum

According to the Chavez-dominated National Electoral Council, Chavez has survived the revocatory referendum. The opposition, which had exit polls showing a landslide victory for their side, and which most observers had figured would benefit from the sort of high turnout the vote witnessed, charged fraud. However, they've just had their legs cut out from under them. Proving that James McGreevey isn't the old Democrat who enjoys sucking foreign dick, Jimmuh Carter got down on his metaphorical knees and blew El Commandante, certifying the vote count. Note that votes were recorded electronically, on a system never used before, and designed by a company partially owned by the government. I'm sure Jimmuh has the computer science experience to assure that the electronic system was not tampered with! Please...

Note, however, that to Jimmuh Florida 2000 represented a "stolen" election, despite what months of disinterested post-mortem analysis established. I guess in a free country like Venezuela, unlike, say, Amerikkka, one gives the electoral authorities the benefit of the doubt. [Ben H.: 8/16/04 14:07]
 
   
Give Them Rebels No Quarter!

Have I mentioned my suggestion for the U.S. Mint's program of issuing quarters with designs for each of the 50 states in the order of admission to the Union? They seem to be well into the 1800's now -- the cheesy and corny entry for Wisconsin (1848) is either out or queued up. I say that once we hit Missouri and Nebraska, we should revoke from circulation all the quarters of the Confederate states for a few months, until the turns of the post-1865 states. [Doug: 8/15/04 21:58]
 
   
The Marilyn Manson Irregulars

The most frustrating thing about the war on Islamofascists is that our enemy is not a state. After the next terrorist attack, we won't have any more cities to bomb in retaliation. (We already took out the one government that was plausibly linked to Islamofascists, and our experience taking out a government implausibly linked to them has not been good.) The problem is that the terrorists are irregulars, free agents, who cannot be pressured or reasoned with because, in their own words, they "love death as much as the infidels love life."

But you know what? We have violent kooks who love death too! I say that we citizens of the blogosphere should buy weapons for a few death-metal bands and ship them over to Fallujah and Najaf. Your irregulars against our irregulars, no rules, no Geneva Convention. Bring it on.

(Link via John & Belle.) [Doug: 8/15/04 17:00]
 
     
 
Miracle Cure

I had occasion to speak harshly just the other day. The problem: gross, gross negligence (outside contractor got a project 3 weeks ago, did not even crack it until yesterday, a fact which was revealed indirectly by his question to me). His not doing this work has greatly, greatly complicated my life. But did I feel good after making my feelings known? No, I felt horrible. Not horrible for him, just generically bad. I went home and fell asleep early. Feh!
[Ben A.: 8/12/04 19:48]
   
     
   
Miracle Cure

I have chronic back pain and am always in the market for new treatments. Somebody lent me a book by John Sarno, who claims that nearly all back pain is due to repressed anger and anxiety. Although he explains his diagnosis at length, he says relatively little about a treatment plan (other than stopping all stretching and physical therapy). Yet it's easy to infer what you should do when your problem is repressed anger: un-repress your anger, and start yelling at your co-workers. I'll start this regimen today. [Doug: 8/12/04 15:45]
 
     
 
Mistrial in the making

Baseball’s Common Law

I suspect looking for the “reasons” behind some baseball rules will end up providing answers like “to furnish the queen’s wardrobe with whalebone.” Often, however, the codicils to various baseball rules are highly rational: for example, batters can only run on a dropped 3rd strike providing there is no force out at other bases. This prevents the catcher from “dropping” the ball on a third strike and getting an easy double play by stepping on home and throwing to first (the same motivation supports the infield fly rule).

Actually, there’s a rational answer to the Miguel Cairo question as well. You wouldn’t want his batting average to reflect an out just because he got caught stretching a double. Likewise, the pitcher should be penalized for giving up a ringing double. Hence, credit Cairo with the hit. So perhaps baseball is rational after all. I will retain the Common Law theme above in order to justify reprinting the following great paragraph from Blackstone’s commentaries:

ANOTHER ancient perquisite belonging to the queen consort, mentioned by all our old writers,22 and, therefore only, worthy notice, is this: that on the taking of a whale on the coasts, which is a royal fish, it shall be divided between the king and queen; the head only being the king's property, and the tail of it the queen's. "De sturgione observetur, quod rex illum habebit integrum: de balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam." The reason of this whimsical division, as assigned by our ancient records, was to furnish the queen's wardrobe with whalebone.

[Ben A.: 8/10/04 17:53]
   
     
   
Megu, Ixta, Yada, Yada, or: You Know You Should Move Out Of Manhattan When ...

This weekend the restaurant "Ixta" on 29th street came up in conversation. I remembered seeing an astonishing review of it in the Times, which amounted to a global admission that the mutually-congratulatory epicurism of New Yorkers is ultimately, sadly, empty. How it slipped past the Times' upbeatness-enforcers I don't know, but we should be grateful for it. Its opening line: "They just keep coming, don't they, these restaurants?"

It was strangely hard to find with Google, though. Instead, we find this standard-issue upbeat re-review from five days ago. Excerpt: "The salsa borracha in which they luxuriate — an amalgam of tomatoes and tomatillos, garlic and onions, tequila and beer — has a punch and complexity that keep you coming back for more." [Doug: 8/9/04 17:01]
 
   
Answer to Baseball Question #1

Carl cites the Major League rules and gives his rationale: I think the spirit behind the rule in question is that the sport is about throwing and catching, in addition to hitting, and one must "perfect" the strikeout (analagous to the legal use of the verb "to perfect" as in "the company perfected its claim").

[Doug: 8/9/04 15:15]
 
   
Re: Megu

Ben, your restaurant review reminds me of my "two snobby Americas" theory. We in New York practice a terroir snobbery: we love to show off our intimate knowledge of foreign cultures, not only by being willing to purchase and able to explain items on restaurant menus, but by pronouncing them with élan, telling you their history, and expounding on their deep cultural significance to some corner of Hokkaido or the Andes. Rich Americans elsewhere have a more straightforward way of expressing their high status, which I call scalar snobbery. They want hard numbers, large numbers, to show the superiority of their purchases; they don't want to have to pull out a Cheese Regions of Spain map to crown what, in their eyes, would be a very equivocal victory. The most absolutely brute number is, of course, price: "I paid five figures for this home entertainment center." Then comes size: "My TV is ninety inches across." Scalar snobbery can get more rarefied, though. People will tell you how many BTU's their Viking Stove puts out (this form of snobbery even crossed over to NYC). My favorite, though, was the sign at a Fashion Island bedding store (which also had a hint of terroir): "Egyptian cotton sheets now in stock: 1200 thread count! [Doug: 8/9/04 09:22]
 
   
Otium Update

We didn't actually go to the Hamptons this weekend, but we were within spitting distance, and that of course is the relation in which one would like to stand to them. Specifically, Dao's sister and her husband invited us to the house they rented on Shelter Island. Did basically nothing; ate a lot of grilled meat, and watched a ballgame on T.V. (for the first time in like 20 years). The one rule that confused me is this: apparently, if you're a batter with two strikes, and the pitcher throws a strike (called or otherwise?) that the catcher fails to catch, you can start running to first base. Do I have that right? What's the rationale for that? The other weird thing was that Miguel Cairo hit a legitimate triple but was incorrectly called out at third on a very close play. The announcers said that he would nonetheless be "credited for a double". Can someone explain that?

Two &-lits, the first from John G.:

Oddly, he bugs Gore! (6,4)

Idea originally embodied by "Poison" and others! (4,5)

[Doug: 8/9/04 09:00]
 
 
Oh, That Fifth Column, Part III

Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan's cover was apparently blown by none other than The New York Times. I guess the Times does print "news you can use... assuming you are an Al Qaeda terrorist worried about whether you might be communicating with a captured operative turned mole.

But, hey, remember, the real scandal is that Bob Novak outed Valerie Plame, whom, after all, at least 6 or 7 people in Washington did not yet know was a CIA agent. [Ben H.: 8/9/04 07:56]
 
 
Obscure Brooklyn

This evening, I decided to test the proposition, trumpeted in the local papers, that Red Hook has become an acceptable neighborhood. While no one mugged me or even offered to sell me drugs, I think the local real estate poobahs have vastly overstated the case for its revival. I thought I knew the geography of the area well enough to navigate it, yet somehow it assumed dimesions far larger than what I deduced from maps I've seen. In this respect, Red Hook lives up to its status as the setting of a Lovecraft story, spatially improbable neighborhoods being one of his stocks-in-trade. It took me nearly an hour to reach the end of the hook, down desolate streets, past acres of crumbling old row-houses, warehouses and auto-body shops. Beyond lies a huge stand of housing projects, stretching off as far as I could see in the direction of Park Slope. You know you have reached a rare part of NYC utterly untouched by gentrification when you see that the 99-cent store ("99-Cent Dreams") is surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire. (I mean, if you broke in a filled up a car with merchandise, you might make off with a whole hundred dollars worth of knick knacks! Can you imagine trying to fence merchandise from a 99cent store?) But all kidding aside, the presence of this bleak expanse of projects indicts the failed housing policy of the Great Society. The place is utterly without commercial activity; it lies almost a half-hour walk from the nearest subway, insulated from "civilization" by miles of desolate, post-industrial brownfields. Granted, many of the residents have probably wound up here at least in part due to self-sabotaging behavior, but once you land in this urban Devil's Island, it's got to be difficult -- just physically -- to get yourself out.

[Ben H.: 8/8/04 21:15]
 
 
Bubble-icious Restaurant Alert

I had a business dinner at Megu last night, though I can't say I learned very much. For the restaurant pushed the hipster theme so far that I passed straight through "impressed" and ended up deep in "bewildered." I won't describe the decor in detail -- you can see it for yourself by following the link. Lest you miss a few of the more subtle atmospheric details, I point out that an ice sculpture of the Buddha sits in the middle of the main room, beneath a giant replica of a monastery bell. A new copy of this ice sculpture is carved every night, which is a good thing, because who would want to gaze upon a statue of stale stone?

I crossed over in "bewildered" as soon as I opened the menu. It has a multi-page glossary at the back, followed by a map of Japan with little dots to indicate where various ingredients come from. The semiotics of this menu could sustain an undergraduate paper, if not a thesis; but cannot, alas, guide a patron in making a sensible order. You guys know that I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the prospect of making trivial choices, but I assure you that everyone else in my party found the menu perplexing. Most menus have some sort of programmatic organization. There are appetizers, main courses, sides, desserts, and one uses those programmatic categories to figure out how much to order. You might have a main course alone, or a main course and an appetizer -- whatever. Megu offered no such divisions. As such, it was practically impossible to figure out where to begin or where to end. Even if one could figure it out, decoding each individual entry, which might require flipping back to the glossary, was no easy task. We ordered, waited a good, long time for the food to show up (which it did in waves), ate and waited for the next wave. It didn't come... and we were all still very hungry, for the portions were mostly minute. Dismayed at the prospect of having to face the menu again, we delegated to one of our party to order a bit more for the table. Shortly thereafter, another wave arrived, which took us comfortably to "full." Great. But then another wave came, leaving us stuffed. And another, at which point we crossed into "nauseated." But like a Ginsu knife commercial, "that's not all!" A final set of dishes came, at which point we were in Monsieur Creosote territory...

[Ben H.: 8/6/04 16:32]
 
 
A True Feces-Throwing Bandarlog

I refer, of course to the Boston sports press. I do not claim any special knowledge about Garciaparra's departure. Perhaps he was the clubhouse cancer and defensive deficiency that journalists now allege. It remains unexplained, of course, why Garciaparra's suspect defence has not be widely noted until this year. But let that pass. Again, without commenting on the facts* of the case, let me make two lists:

Red Sox "Perennial All-Stars": Past 20 Years

Wade Boggs
Roger Clemens
Nomar Garciaparra
Pedro Martinez (current)
Manny Ramirez (current)
Jim Rice

"Perennial All-Stars" the Boston Press Soured On and Tore Apart: Past 20 Years

Wade Boggs
Roger Clemens
Nomar Garciaparra
Pedro Martinez (current)
Jim Rice

What a bunch of jackals. Manny, watch your back.

*But seriously, how likely is a player to intentionally exagerate an injury in the stretch drive preceding his free agency? Why should we possibly creduit such a counter-intuitive allegation? Has this ever happened before in the history of baseball?

Addendum: Balanced commentary on Nomar can be found here. [Ben A.: 8/5/04 22:51]
   
 
Oh, That Fifth Column, II

Some guys caught allegedly trying to buy shoulder-fired anti-aicraft missiles. My first reaction -- those angry Amish again! It's probably just a crazy coincidence, but it looks like the perps subscribe to the Religion of Peace. [Ben H.: 8/5/04 09:48]
 
 
The Banania bloke would be an appropriate pitchman for the extreme sports energy gel chocolate outrage.

Also: Clair de Lune [Ben A.: 8/3/04 22:07]
   
     
   
I led "Nuclear Explosion", a Debussy favorite (5,2,4) [Doug: 8/3/04 15:14]
 
   
Controversial French Art, Bowdlerized in Brooklyn

One of this weekend's two brunches was at Banania, on Smith St. in Brooklyn. It steals its branding from the kitschy French breakfast product of the same name. Breakfast in France usually consists of a bowl of warm flavored milk into which yesterday's stale baguette is dipped. Banania, which I've never actually had, is a chocolate milk-flavoring alternative to coffee. Banania has always had distinctive and successful advertising. Its mascot is a WWI-era Senegalese rifleman, who might be better described as a male Francophone Aunt Jemima. His catch-phrase is "Y'a bon!", pidgin French which might be translanted, to change the racist metaphor a bit, "It's heap good!" Friends who've been to the eponymous brunch joint remember seeing these kinds of images:

      


However, when we went Saturday, all the faces (except those in the most realistic early 20th-century ads) had been carefully excised. The front of the menus, for example, were the two-banana image above, including the hat, but missing the face. Not even the hippest hipster would open an Aunt Jemima cafe; Banania's owners were probably betting that the French perfume would mask the whiff of racism. I guess not; they must have had complaints. (I Googled for signs of controversy, but found nothing.)

Also, a funny subversive image-appropriation from ATTAC, the anti-globalization group, whose views I don't generally share (the "FMI" is, of course, the IMF). The text on top reads "Y'a bon le" ...



[Doug: 8/2/04 10:54]
 
     
 
I'd be Worried...

...about the Jason Schmidt scenario, The Cuban mystery man has some nasty, nasty stuff. Expect him to turn it around outside of the Bronx spotlight.

Addendum: And it's not like Loaiza is going to be pitching game 7, either. He's the 4th or 5th starter on a team that is a MORTAL LOCK for the playoffs. Why not keep Contreras around and see if he gets it together? [Ben A.: 8/1/04 13:46]
   
 
Goodbye, Jose

Yanks deal Contreras, at last! You'll recall that my idea was to put him on a rubber dinghy and give him a shove Havana-ward. In the event, the Yankees didn't have to resort to Elian-style repatriation as some other sucka (the White Sox) was willing to trade for him. Pertinent to our earlier thread on the topic, Torre justifies dealing Contreras for Loiaza by distinguishing average performance and volatility:

We get a guy who is more consistent and more experienced and we traded someone with a high ceiling who has not been consistent.

Now all I have to do is hope that Contreras doesn't turn out like Jason Schmidt; I think the Schmidt analogy influenced the Yankees such that they showed too much patience to Contreras. [Ben H.: 8/1/04 11:13]
 
     
 

 

 

Ben A.
Ben H.
Doug
Earlier