:: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 ::
I'd like to wish everyone out there a happy new year . Thanks to everyone who emails me with the tons of links, news, and alerts; and the authors of the great daily sites, a few of whom I link to on the left and are definitely worth reading regularly. Be safe, kind, honest, and keep giving 'em hell until things change.
2004 is gonna be better... I can feel it.
World's most mysterious book may be a hoax (via /.)
The Voynich manuscript is often described as the world's most mysterious book. It is hand-written in a unique alphabet, about 250 pages long, and contains pictures of unrecognizable flowers, naked nymphs and astrological symbols.
Tim Berners-Lee gets knighted.
Apparently scandal-ridden, millionaire-warmonger Richard Perle has a backward, isolationist, conservative-rant book out about how to "win" the "war" on terror (ostensibly in some bizarre parallel universe).
No doubt that Bush is drooling all over this piece of shit (once the big words are cleared up for him) in order to maintain his position as the most dangerous dictator in the world.
:: Tuesday, December 30, 2003 ::
[Mad Cow, Insane USDA: Greed-driven politics are at war with health and the environment]
The Department of Agriculture, working with their cronies in the beef industry have been guilty of criminal negligence for years. Having known exactly what causes mad cow, absolutely nothing was done in practice or policy to prevent this preventable disease, proving once again that profit wins over health and even human life every single time where "conservative" corporate interests are concerned. (excellent Mother Jones article on the Republican administration's efforts to deceive us once again in the name of self interest and profit preservation) Even today, cows eating disease-inviting cannibal diets, no robust tracking/monitoring systems are in place, and the industry is trying to shrug off the disease as something that might be foreign (hinting that the cow may have come from over the border in Canada) and doesn't warrant any additional oversight (Villiage Voice article on how beef lobbyists fought and are still fighting health inspections).
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber saw Mad Cow coming from a long way off and wrote of the dangers in 1997 in their book "Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?". In this article, they discuss the initial reaction to their book, and what has happened since.
Of course, he [Republican lobbyist Richard Burman] had an easier time attacking us before the emergence of mad cow disease in America. I was saddened but not surprised when mad cow disease was finally discovered in the United States. When the first North
American cow with the disease was found last May in Canada, I told interviewers that if the disease was in Canada, it would also be found in the United States and Mexico, since all three NAFTA nations are one big free trade zone and all three countries feed their cattle slaughterhouse waste in the form of blood, fat and rendered meat and bone meal. In fact, in North America calves are literally weaned on milk formula containing "raw spray dried cattle blood plasma," even though scientists have known for many years that blood can transmit mad cow type diseases.
We should ship Ann Veneman and her smartest advisors to Britain where they can copy the successful feed and testing regulations that have solved the mad cow problem in Europe. Veneman and her advisors should institute a complete and total ban on feeding any slaughterhouse waste to livestock. You may think this is already the case because that's what industry and government said they did back in the summer of 1997. But beside the cattle blood being legally fed back to cattle, billions of pounds of rendered fat, blood meal, meat and bone meal from pigs and poultry are rendered and fed to cattle, and cattle are rendered and fed to other food species, a perfect environment for spreading and amplifying mad cow disease and even for creating new strains of the disease.
(Stauber and Rampton's book is available online for free at: www.prwatch.org/books/mcusa.pdf)
Blur cuts the first interplanetary song, a 9-note piece that should have, but hasn't yet, been transmitted back to Earth.
Federal judge rules pics of nude Barbie with a fondue pot are, in fact, legal.
Through a link on metafilter I found this fantastic page of hundreds of Airline logos, past and present.
Bush and the press: How the master pretender sanitizes the pool.
:: Monday, December 29, 2003 ::
The Bush press conference to me was like a mini-Alamo for American journalism, a final announcement that the press no longer performs anything akin to a real function. Particularly revolting was the spectacle of the cream of the national press corps submitting politely to the indignity of obviously pre-approved questions, with Bush not even bothering to conceal that the affair was scripted.
Abandoning the time-honored pretense of spontaneity, Bush chose the order of questioners not by scanning the room and picking out raised hands, but by looking down and reading from a predetermined list. Reporters, nonetheless, raised their hands in between questions–as though hoping to suddenly catch the president’s attention.
In other words, not only were reporters going out of their way to make sure their softballs were pre-approved, but they even went so far as to act on Bush’s behalf, raising their hands and jockeying in their seats in order to better give the appearance of a spontaneous news conference.
Terrorists, nerds targeted by FBI:
Beware of guys carrying Almanacs
The administration is getting really carried away with this fascism thing.
It seems everything about the Bush/Cheney regime is fake - even their "grassroots" campaigns, from phony letters of support that get mailed to newspaper editors (dubbed "Astroturfing") to bussing in out-of-town cheerers to local speeches.
Dutch Hacker Documentary available online:
Hippies from Hell are a group of hackers, techies, artists, writers and puzzlers. In the eighties they published hacker magazine Hacktic and in 1993 they started the first Dutch Internet-provider, xs4all, thus opening the Internet for the general public. Apart from this they throw wild parties and organize open-air hacker festivals, using the Internet as their social platform. On their mailing list they discuss almost every aspect of our technology infested society. The Dutch hackers, as the hippies were called initially, are a special group within the international hacker movement, which they helped create for a large part.
With a guaranteed sweetheart contract promise that preceded the Iraq war, Halliburton is now finding that contracts were underestimated. Is this their new excuse for padding prices? (NYTimes)
Timeline graph here.
In California, the introduction of a tiny, nonnative snail is wreaking havoc with recreational fishing
The tiny creature belies the notion that snails are slow, plodding animals. The New Zealand Mud Snail is built for nothing if not speed. They multiply rapidly, move from stream to stream with the help of fishermen or boaters and can reach 1 million in number and still occupy only one square meter of space. .
Bush signs parts of Patriot Act II into law — stealthily
:: Sunday, December 28, 2003 ::
More dangerous, backhanded policy typical of the illegitimate faux-president.
Opponents of the PATRIOT Act and its expansion claim that safeguards like judicial oversight and the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, are essential to prevent abuses of power. "There's a reason these protections were put into place," says Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, and a historian of U.S. political repression. "It has been shown that if you give [these agencies] this power they will abuse it. For any investigative agency, once you tell them that they must make sure that they protect the country from subversives, it inevitably gets translated into a program to silence dissent."
A Message from Pat Robertson and the "Vote No on Jesus" Campaign (McSweeneys)
Just six months after His re-rebirth, it has become startlingly clear that Jesus has lost touch with America. Far from being a prudent Savior, Jesus has proven to be no more than a foolhardy liberal. Aligning Himself with the far-left minority, Jesus has adopted the lofty and politically correct delusions that have come to define the liberal elite. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Jesus' irresponsible welfare proposals and pleas for universal healthcare.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Atlantic Monthly.
John Currin [bbc] is getting congratulated almost everywhere for his show at the Whitney. Why's the Post slamming him?
Scented metal as contemporary art
Wilco's newest E.P. is available for streaming download from the band's site
:: Thursday, December 25, 2003 ::
:: Monday, December 22, 2003 ::
SiliconValley.com asked readers what their first computers were.
Mine: Commodore C=64, with a single-sided 1541 "smart" floppy drive, a 300 baud Total Telecommunications modem, and a Star Gemini II dot matrix ribbon printer.
Holy crap, I want a Commodore watch. or a Commodore Phone.
I've got the commands "POKE 53280,0; POKE 53281,0" burned into my memory forever.(C64 Basic to change the background and border to black. I wasn't some cyan-and-blue coding punk)
[Bizarre sub-sub-sub-specialties IV]
We specialize in obtaining rare and collectible hair from famous and historical people we all know... Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, Napolean, Queen Victoria and many more! (link to their screwy website)
How do they follow this up? Collecting hair from "famous and historical people" that we all don't know?
Feeling the sting of the "Patriot Act" (I'm sorry - I can't type that without putting quotes around it)
:: Sunday, December 21, 2003 ::
Becky Foster isn't a terrorist, but her bank didn't want to take any chances. Before she could open a new account, bank officials told her, the USA Patriot Act required them to run her name through a government list of suspected terrorists.
The public corruption probe known as "G-sting" is aimed at strip-club owners, but that didn't stop the FBI from using the Patriot Act to secretly obtain reams of banking information for its investigation. Originally sold to Congress as a means of fighting terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Patriot Act has been used in numerous criminal cases unrelated to terrorism probes, officials say.
Pitchforkmedia's top 50 albums of 2003
:: Saturday, December 20, 2003 ::
"This is not America." (Salon- 1day pass req'd)
It was the end of two days of what many observers called unprecedented
police vindictiveness and violence toward activists. Certainly, complaints
about the police have become a standard ritual after each major
globalization protest. But what happened in Miami, say protesters, lawyers,
journalists and union leaders, was anything but routine.
Armed with millions of dollars of new equipment and inflamed by weeks of
warnings about anarchists out to destroy their city, police in Miami donned
riot gear, assembled by the thousand, put the city on lockdown and
unleashed an arsenal of crowd control weaponry on overwhelmingly peaceful
Videos taken at the scene show protesters being beaten with wooden clubs,
shocked with Taser guns, shot in the back with rubber bullets and beanbags,
and pepper-sprayed in the face. Retirees were held handcuffed and refused
water for hours. Medics and legal observers, arrested in large numbers, say
they were targeted. A female journalist, arrested during a mass roundup,
was made to strip in front of a male policeman. A woman's entire breast
turned purple-black after she was shot there, point-blank, with a rubber
It's not you! It's your brainwaves.
:: Friday, December 19, 2003 ::
Latvia claims world drinking record, but Guinness won't bite.
Cats: Can't live with 'em, can't have a stroke without getting chewed by them.
13 Tons? No backbone? That could describe the roster of Democratic senators for the last 3 years. Ha! Just kidding... (but seriously: DO something)
Another giant mystery blob washed ashore. This one is a Chilean Sea Blob.
The 13-tonne specimen was at first taken for a beached whale when it came ashore a week ago, but experts who have seen it say it appears not to have a backbone.
Don't order the seafood special this weekend.
Palace ghost caught on video.
"We're baffled too -- it's not a joke, we haven't manufactured it," said Vikki Wood, a Hampton Court spokeswoman, when asked if the photo the palace released was a Christmas hoax. "We genuinely don't know who it is or what it is."
Looks more like a ringwraith.
For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented. (CBS)
:: Thursday, December 18, 2003 ::
Coffee-flavored breakfast cereal (?) (from /.)
An innovative new cereal to combine your morning coffee with breakfast. Light aromatic coffee flavoured wheat flakes combined with crisp rice flakes and yoghurt-coated cornflakes.
Projecting video onto thin air
(NYTimes article about the company, IO2)
Scientists find the oldest known sculpture (NYTimes)
INSANELY good origami (Japanese)
No swans here.
[Rights] A historical perspective on why the DMCA must be repealed, revoked.
During his lifetime, Alfred Barnes amassed an enormous collection of art, including impressionist paintings by Renior, VanGogh, and Cezanne. The collection, now owned by a foundation established to carry out the wishes prescribed in his will, is valued at over $6 billion. His will specified very specific terms regarding the location and display of the art, however due to financial difficulties at the foundation, a court battle is being fought by those interested in dismantling and selling the Barnes collection - breaking the demands of his will.
Barnes himself, souring early on the Philadelphia art establishment, drew up a detailed indenture, or trust document, to protect his collection after his death. Among its provisions: The paintings could not be lent, sold or rearranged. (Their floor-to-ceiling, nonchronological hanging is central to Barnes's ideas about the comparative, purely formal properties of art.) Shortly before he died, he gave nearby Lincoln University, a historically black college, the authority to nominate replacement trustees as the original board members died or retired--with an eye toward the university eventually taking full control of the foundation.
A couple of Guardian shots at the state of blogging in '03: A Whatsit article, and the best of UK blogs (although its overspecific categories leave no consideration for the best All-round UK weblog: Bifurcated Rivets)
:: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 ::
Thanks, Patrick, for the links.
I don't know how I missed this great memepool link to Cowboy Pinups of the 30s
A highway problem that I knew nothing about...
(courtesy of BoingBoing)
Print your own poster (pdf).
Indictment Charges Ex-Governor of Illinois With Racketeering (NYTimes)
Typical screw-everyone-but-me Republican behavior that should surprise absolutely no one.
A 22-count federal indictment charges Mr. Ryan with accepting payoffs and gifts while secretary of state in exchange for government contracts and leases.
[More sickening Diebold news] Convicted felons worked for electronic voting companies
At least five convicted felons secured management positions at a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, according to critics
demanding more stringent background checks for people responsible for voting machine software.
Voter advocate Bev Harris alleged Tuesday that managers of a subsidiary of Diebold Inc., one of the country's largest voting equipment vendors, included a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records.
Isn't there a single responsible soul in Washington who will step up and propose that we cancel contracts with this disgusting company? The level of fraud that they've committed borders on absurd. How well-connected do they have to be to get away with this?
Reading time for fonts as a function of size (ACM)
The history of plywood in furniture design
Battle to control Internet threatens open accessThis Internet may be dying. At the behest of powerful interests, the FCC is buying into a warped vision that open networks should be replaced by closed networks and that the FCC should excuse broadband providers from longstanding non-discrimination requirements.
A Big Best-Of 2003 Digest from fimoculous
:: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 ::
While you're listpicking, don't forget the Onion's Least Essential Albums of 2003.
What are the differences between Unix and
knuckle-dragging, mouthbreathing, sheeplike Windows programmers?
This article references the book "The Art of Unix Programming" which you can read online for free (if you don't read the whole thing, definitely read the chapter The Basics of Unix Philossophy.
[Shaping up to be another Halliburton] Republican cohorts Diebold Corp apparently want to gouge buyers of their flimsy e-voting systems. Havn't we had enough of Diebold? Is there some kind of Republican mandate to throw cash at only the most corrupt, dishonest companies?
It plans to make the modifications so expensive that city and state officials balk at the cost.
Steven Dennis at the Maryland Gazette last week unearthed correspondence from a Diebold engineer who advised that "any after-sale changes should be prohibitively expensive."
Diebold had told the Gazette that printers - required for the paper trail - would cost between $1,000 and $1,200 per machine. Given that printers can be found at Best Buy for as little as $50, voters are justified in questioning what makes a Diebold-approved printer quite so expensive.
Anti-Gnome laws are not only unfair, they're fake.
What's a Spider Hole?
Although the origin of the term spider hole is fuzzy, it may have something to do with an arachnid commonly known as the trap-door spider. This creature makes a burrow and then builds a tight-fitting removable lid of silk and earth, which it covers with soil or gravel to disguise the entrance.
Iraqi Vice: Shady capitalism in the post-Saddam Iraqi economy
:: Monday, December 15, 2003 ::
El Lissitzky: Flash overview of the Avante Garde Russian artist's career from the Getty Museum.
[Arts Et Metiers Graphiques Web] An educational website and database finding aid dedicated to Arts et Métiers Graphiques,
the graphic arts and typography magazine published in France from 1927–1939.
The Seattle Art Museum's Stories of Krishna (Flash)
Check out Big Muff, Soul Preacher, Fuzz Face and the Blue Hippo: The guitar pedal picture gallery.
U.N. Agrees to Examine how Internet is Governed (NYTimes)
Many public comments were similar to those expressed by Shashi Tharoor, the United Nations under secretary general for information and communications, who said in an interview, "Unlike the French Revolution, the Internet revolution has lots of liberty, some fraternity and no equality."
According to the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations agency that organized the conference, only 1 percent of people in the world's poorest countries are connected to the Internet. To illustrate the gap between rich and poor countries, the agency noted that the 450,000 residents of Luxembourg have more Internet capacity than Africa's 760 million people.
You know how Hollywood movies portray hacks (e.g. The Net, or every Spielberg film with a keyboard) as so illogical and easy that its a wonder that any of the characters work since transferring the treasury of a small country is so trivial? Although the hackers invariably have to wait for the progress bar to suspensefully tick across the amount a dollar at a time, by the time "Transaction Completed" blinks in 100 point font, you can be sure that the whole business is complete, and that there's absolutely no auditable trace of the hack. Insecure.org has a nice little bit on how The Matrix finally got it right with Trinity using NMAP on Linux to scan for a known SSH exploit.
:: Sunday, December 14, 2003 ::
I'm still waiting for a scene showing a data center getting shut down with a more realistic hack, like say, stealing all of the mouse-balls. You could make a career out of sealing up the security holes at the CTU on "24". Everyone shares passwords (which is probably something like "ctu" anyway), but it doesn't matter because a) they routinely transfer all of their files to everyone else anyway, b)they're all running their own covert ops units - at work - off of personal, untraceable cell phones, c) director is busy shooting heroin - at work, and d) the blonde chick couldn't make it to the snack machine without getting kidnapped, which provides enough of a diversion for anyone to do whatever they want. Recently, she even got kidnapped at work. They put her in one of the seamingly hundreds of vacant offices that would otherwise provide privacy for somebody running the aforementioned covert ops units off of their cellphone. Tight ship.
Elvis Concert Jumpsuit Index (hooha: memepool)
Remarks by Chairman Alan Greenspan
Before the World Affairs Council of Greater Dallas, Dallas, Texas
December 11, 2003
Interest in issues of trade, tariffs, and protectionism has ebbed and
flowed in this country since our founding. The widened trade deficit of
recent years, in the context of a prolonged bout of job loss, has again
elevated cries of distress to special prominence.
The sensitivity of our economy to foreign competition does appear to have
intensified recently as technological obsolescence has continued to
foreshorten the expected profitable life of the nation's capital stock. The
more rapid turnover of our equipment and plant, as one might expect, is
mirrored in an increased turnover of jobs. A million workers leave their
jobs every week, two-fifths involuntarily, often in association with
facilities that have been displaced or abandoned. A million, more or less,
are also newly hired or returned from layoffs every week, in part as new
facilities come on stream.
Related to this process, jobs in the United States have been perceived as
migrating over the years, to low-wage Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, to
low-wage Mexico in the 1990s, and most recently to low-wage China. Japan,
of course, is no longer characterized by a low-wage workforce, and many in
Mexico are now complaining of job losses to low-wage China.
In the United States, conceptual jobs, fostered by cutting-edge
technologies, especially information technologies, are occupying an ever
increasing share of the workforce and are gradually replacing work
requiring manual skills. Those industries in which labor costs are a
significant part of overall costs have been under increasing competition
from foreign producers with labor costs, adjusted for productivity, less
This process is not new. For generations American ingenuity has been
creating industries and jobs that never existed before, from vehicle
assemblers to computer software engineers. With those jobs come new
opportunities for workers with the necessary skills. In recent years,
competition from abroad has risen to a point at which our lowest skilled
workers are being priced out of the global labor market. This diminishing
of opportunities for such workers is why retraining for new job skills that
meet the evolving opportunities created by our economy has become so urgent
in this country. A major source of such retraining has been our community
colleges, which have proliferated over the past two decades.
We can usually identify somewhat in advance which tasks are most vulnerable
to being displaced by foreign or domestic competition. But in economies on
the forefront of technology, most new jobs are the consequence of
innovation, which by its nature is not easily predictable. What we do know
is that over the years, more than 94 percent of the workforce, on average,
has been employed as markets matched idled workers seeking employment to
new jobs. We can thus be confident that new jobs will displace old ones as
they always have, but not without a high degree of pain for those in the
job-losing segment of our massive job turnover.
The American economy has been in the forefront of what Joseph Schumpeter,
the renowned Harvard professor, called "creative destruction," the
continuous scrapping of old technologies to make way for the new. Standards
of living rise because the depreciation and other cash flows of industries
employing older, increasingly obsolescent, technologies are marshaled,
along with new savings, to finance the production of capital assets that
almost always embody cutting-edge technologies. Workers migrate with the
capital. This is the process by which wealth is created, incremental step
by incremental step. It presupposes a continuous churning of an economy in
which the new displaces the old, a process that brings both progress and
Disoriented by the quickened pace of today's competition, some in our
society look back with nostalgia to the seemingly more tranquil years of
the early post-World War II period, when tariff walls were perceived as
providing job security from imports. Were we to yield to such selective
nostalgia and shut out a large part, or all, of imports of manufactured
goods and produce them ourselves, our overall standards of living would
fall. In today's flexible markets, our large, but finite, capital and labor
resources are generally employed most effectively. Any diversion of
resources from the market-guided activities would, of necessity, engender a
less productive mix.
For the most part, we as a nation have not engaged in significant and
widespread protectionism for more than five decades. The consequences of
moving in that direction in today's far more globalized financial world
could be unexpectedly destabilizing. A likely fall in wage incomes and
profits could lead, ironically, to a fall in jobs and job security in the
shorter term. So, yes, we can shut out part or all foreign competition, but
we would pay a price for doing so--perhaps a rather large price.
* * *
I do not doubt that the vast majority of us would prefer to work in a less
stressful, less competitive environment. Yet, in our roles as consumers, we
seem to relentlessly seek the low product prices and high quality that are
prominent features of our current frenetic economic structure. In
particular, America's discount retailers have responded by learning to
profit as intermediaries between consumers and low-cost producers, whether
located in Guangdong province in China or Peoria, Illinois.
Retailers who do not choose their suppliers with price and quality
uppermost in mind risk finding themselves in liquidation. If a producer can
offer quality at a lower price than the competition, retailers are pressed
to respond because the consumer will otherwise shop at the retailer who
does. Retailers are afforded little leeway in product sourcing.
If consumers are stern taskmasters of their marketplace, business
purchasers of capital equipment and production materials inputs have taken
the competitive paradigm a step further and applied it on a global scale.
Understandably, as a consequence, trade discussions under the aegis of the
World Trade Organization have become increasingly contentious. After four
decades of more or less successful negotiations, the "low-hanging trade
agreement fruit," so to speak, has already been picked. Current trade
negotiators, accordingly, now must grapple with the remaining, more
difficult issues, such as intellectual property rights and agricultural
subsidies. Debates over trade restrictions have understandably become far
more confrontational than in earlier years.
For example, a strain of so-called conventional wisdom has attributed the
weak labor market in the United States to the widening trade deficit, and a
loss of jobs since the beginning of the recession of 2001 to low-priced
competition from abroad (often deemed "unfair") and increased foreign
outsourcing on the part of corporate America. In fact, as Council of
Economic Advisers Chairman Greg Mankiw recently pointed out, U.S. "job
losses are ... more closely related to declines in domestic investment and
weak exports than to import competition."1 In addition, of course,
increased productivity has enabled ongoing demand to be met with fewer
Noteworthy is the singling out of a particular exchange rate, the Chinese
renminbi, as a significant cause of American job loss. The renminbi is
widely believed to be markedly undervalued, and it is claimed that a rise
in the renminbi will slow exports from China to the United States, which
according to some, will create increased job opportunities for Americans at
The story on trade and jobs, in my judgment, is a bit more complex,
especially with respect to China, than this strain of conventional wisdom
would lead one to believe. If the renminbi were to rise, presumably U.S.
imports from China would fall as China loses competitive position to other
low-wage economies. But would, for example, reduced imports of textiles
from China induce increased output in American factories? Far more likely
is that our imports from other low-wage countries would replace Chinese
Despite the very large surplus of China's trade with the United States,
overall Chinese trade is much closer to balance. Chinese exports, a
majority of which are from foreign-owned firms or affiliates, many
American, depend on purchases from East Asian companies that supply inputs
to the products the Chinese sell to the United States and elsewhere.
Emerging Asia used to manufacture many goods that were then directly
exported to the United States. However, a growing fraction of these goods
are now partially assembled with capital-intensive, high-value-added
manufacturing in the rest of emerging Asia; exported to China, where final
processing is done--typically with labor-intensive, lower-value-added
manufacturing; and then exported to the United States. This situation
implies a deterioration in the Chinese trade balance with the rest of
emerging Asia, along with a growing surplus with the United States. In
large part, the increase in China's share of U.S. imports has come at the
expense of other East Asian exporters.
China's imports overall have risen dramatically over this year, from
approximately $25 billion per month a year ago to $33 billion per month
more recently, as China has become a major consumer of the world's
commodities. Doubtless, part of the recent firmness in non-high-tech
commodity prices is attributable to China's voracious appetite for raw
* * *
A rise in the value of the renminbi would be unlikely to have much, if any,
effect on aggregate employment in the United States, but a misaligned
Chinese currency, if that is indeed the case, could have adverse effects on
the global financial market and, hence, indirectly on U.S. output and jobs.
In order to maintain the tight relationship with the dollar initiated in
the 1990s, the Chinese central bank has had to purchase large quantities of
U.S. Treasury securities with renminbi. What is not clear is how much of
the unquestioned current upward pressure on the renminbi results from
underlying market forces, how much from capital inflows due to speculation
on potential revaluation, and how much from capital controls that suppress
Chinese residents' demand for dollars.
No one truly knows whether easing or ending of capital controls would ease
pressure on the currency without central bank intervention and, in the
process, also eliminate inflows from speculation on a revaluation. Many in
China, however, fear that an immediate ending of controls could induce
capital outflows large enough to destabilize the nation's fragile banking
system. Others believe that decontrol, but at a gradual pace, could
conceivably temper such concerns.
Central bank purchases of dollars, unless offset, threaten an excess of
so-called high-powered money expansion and consequent overheating of the
Chinese economy. The Chinese central bank this year has indeed offset, that
is, sterilized, much of its heavy dollar purchases by reducing its loans to
commercial banks, by selling bonds, and by increasing reserve requirements.
But currency and commercial bank reserves have been rising enough to
support a growth of the money supply well in excess of a 20 percent annual
rate so far this year. Should this pattern continue, the central bank will
be confronted with the choice of an overheated economy, with its potential
recessionary consequences, or a curtailing of dollar asset purchases. The
latter presumably would allow the renminbi to appreciate against the dollar.
China has become an important addition to the global trading system. A
prosperous China will bring substantial positive benefits to the rest of
the trading world. It is, thus, important to all of us that they succeed in
navigating through their current economic and financial imbalances.
* * *
The challenges represented by China's large surplus with the United States
and the efforts to repair a recent breach in the current round of trade
negotiations have engaged the attention of policymakers worldwide. But
these are subplots in a much larger debate about the benefits and costs of
At the risk of oversimplification, I would separate the parties in that
debate into three groups. First, there are those who believe that
relatively unfettered capitalism is the only economic organization
consistent with individual and political freedom. In a second group are
those who accept capitalism as the only practical means to achieve higher
standards of living but who are disturbed by the seeming incivility of many
market practices and outcomes. In very broad terms, the prevalence with
which one encounters allegations of incivility defines an important
difference in economic views that distinguishes the United States from
continental Europe--two peoples having deeply similar roots in political
freedom and democracy.
A more pronounced distinction separates both of these groups from a third
group, which views societal organization based on the profit motive and
corporate culture as fundamentally immoral.
This group questions, in particular, whether the distribution of wealth
that results from greater economic interactions among countries is, in some
sense, "fair." Here terms such as "exploitation," "subversion of democratic
choice," and other value-charged notions dominate the debate. These terms
too often substitute for a rigorous discussion of the difficult tradeoffs
that we confront in advancing the economic welfare of our nations. Such an
antipathy to "corporate culture" has sent tens of thousands into the
streets to protest what they see as "exploitive capitalism" in its most
visible form--the increased globalization of our economies.
As solutions to these alleged failures of globalization, dissidents
frequently appear to favor politically imposed systems, employing the power
of the state to override the outcomes arrived at through voluntary
exchange. The historical record of such approaches does not offer much
encouragement. One would be hard pressed to cite examples of free and
prosperous societies that suppressed the marketplace.
* * *
Setting aside the arguments of the protesters, even among those committed
to market-oriented economies, important differences remain about capitalism
and the role of globalization. These differences are captured most clearly
for me in a soliloquy attributed to a prominent European leader several
years ago. He asked, "What is the market? It is the law of the jungle, the
law of nature. And what is civilization? It is the struggle against
nature." While acknowledging the ability of competition to promote growth,
many such observers, nonetheless, remain concerned that economic actors, to
achieve that growth, are required to behave in a manner governed by the law
of the jungle.
In contrast to these skeptical views, others argue for the ethical merits
of market-driven outcomes posited on the value preferences of individuals
as reflected in their choices in a free marketplace. The ultimate arbiter
of an economy's ethics is, or should be, the material welfare of the
individuals in a society. The crux of the largely laissez-faire argument is
that, because unencumbered competitive markets reflect the value
preferences of consumers, the resulting price signals direct a nation's
savings into those capital assets that maximize the production of goods and
services most valued by consumers. Wages, profits, and other sources of
income are determined, for the most part, by how successfully the
participants in an economy contribute to the welfare of consumers.
Clearly not all activities undertaken in markets are civil. Many, though
legal, are decidedly unsavory. Violation of law and breaches of trust do
undermine the efficiency of markets. But the legal foundations and the
discipline of the marketplace are sufficiently rooted in a rule of law to
limit these aberrations. It is instructive that despite the egregious
breaches of trust in recent years by a number of the nation's business and
financial leaders, productivity, an important metric of corporate
efficiency, has accelerated.
On net, vigorous economic competition over the years has produced a
significant rise in the quality of life for the vast majority of the
population in market-oriented economies, including those at the bottom of
the income distribution.
The highly competitive free market paradigm, however, is viewed by many at
the other end of the philosophical spectrum as obsessively materialistic
and largely lacking in meaningful cultural values. This view gained
adherents with the recent uncovering of much scandalous business behavior
during the boom years of the 1990s.
But is there a simple tradeoff between civil conduct, as defined by those
who find raw competitive behavior demeaning, and the quality of material
life they, nonetheless, seek? It is not obvious that such a tradeoff exists
in any meaningful sense when viewed from a longer-term perspective.
During the past century, for example, economic growth created resources far
in excess of those required to maintain subsistence. That surplus in
democratic capitalist societies has been, in large measure, employed to
improve the quality of life along many dimensions. To cite a short list:
(1) greater longevity, owing first to the widespread development of clean,
potable water and later to rapid advances in medical technology; (2) a
universal system of education that enabled greatly increased social
mobility; (3) vastly improved conditions of work; and (4) the ability to
enhance our environment by setting aside natural resources rather than
having to employ them to sustain a minimum level of subsistence. At a
fundamental level, Americans have used the substantial increases in wealth
generated by our market-driven economy to purchase what many would view as
* * *
Debates on the pros and cons of market capitalism have waged for
generations. The collapse of the Soviet empire, and with it central
planning, has left market capitalism as the principal, but not universally
revered, model of economic organization.
The vigorous debates on how economies should be organized and by what rules
individuals' trading should be governed surfaced most prominently in the
latter part of the eighteenth century. Those debates appear destined to
continue through the twenty-first century and presumably beyond.
Shangai declares phone war on flyer posters
:: Friday, December 12, 2003 ::
3D Spatial models of great buildings
So, it turns out that Halliburton even cheats on sweetheart, backroom handout contracts. How long are these people going to be tolerated?
:: Thursday, December 11, 2003 ::
But government documents show that the United States government is paying Halliburton an average of $2.64 a gallon to import gasoline to Iraq from Kuwait, more than twice what others are paying.
Paint Can Cameras Cheap for you!
[Kicking Science] Flight-hopping scientists contribute to greenhouse gasses.
Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Plug and undergraduate Borden Scott estimate that each scientist released 0.16 kilograms of carbon dioxide for each kilometre he or she travelled by plane. In other words, each was responsible for almost 1.3 tonnes of the gas.
The Bubble of American Supremacy (from The Atlantic)
by George Soros. A prominent financier argues that the heedless assertion of American power in the world resembles a financial bubble—and the moment of truth may be here
NME's 100 best albums of all time.
:: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 ::
This is from March, but at this time of year I'm a sucker for reading best albums lists.
Urban Tapestries allows people to author their own virtual annotations of the city, enabling a community’s collective memory to grow organically, allowing ordinary citizens to embed social knowledge in the new wireless landscape of the city. People will be able to add new locations, location content and the ‘threads’ which link individual locations to local contexts, which are accessed via handheld devices such as PDAs and mobile phones.
Amazing Hubble pictures slideshow (courtesy of Metafilter)
[No honor among thieves] Nixon: "Reagan is strange"
Human alteration of geological time may have begun 5000 years ago.
:: Tuesday, December 09, 2003 ::
The climate of the last 10,000 years has been unusually stable, allowing civilization to flourish. But that is only because people chopped down swathes of forest in Europe, China and India for croplands and pastures, Dr. Ruddiman said. Carbon dioxide released by the destruction of the forests, plus methane, another heat-trapping gas, produced by irrigated rice fields in Southeast Asia, trapped enough heat to offset an expected natural cooling, he said.
There goes the liberal media...
:: Monday, December 08, 2003 ::
The NRA is seeking "news outlet" exemption.
Hoping to spend as much as it wants on next year's elections, the National Rifle Association is looking to buy a television or radio station and declare that it should be treated as a news organization, exempt from spending limits in the campaign finance law.
It seems that hardcore fascism is alive and well outside of our very own Bush Administration. In another display of their rollicking sense of humor, the Germans are selling thousands of bottles of Adolf Hitler wine.
Woman hasn't slept in 8 years.
A bad year for everything but nukes. No debate in Congress.
Congress, with only a limited debate, has given the Bush administration a green light for the biggest revitalization of the country's nuclear weapons program since the end of the Cold War, leaving many Democrats and even some hawkish Republicans seething.
"This has been a good year," said Linton Brooks, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which develops and manages the country's nuclear weapons arsenal. "I'm pretty happy we essentially got what we wanted."
Kind words from your helpful Bush-deployed friends:
:: Friday, December 05, 2003 ::
"This fence is here for your protection," reads the sign posted in front of the barbed-wire fence. "Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot."
These guys certainly know how to stage an illegal, immoral militant occupancy with panache.
Another heartwarming nugget:
"With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," Colonel Sassaman said.
arcade paper models.
Interviewing with an Intelligence Agency (or A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Fort Meade) (pdf)
A first person narrative of an applicant interviewing and going through the clearance process with the National Security Agency
Looting the Future (NYTimes)
:: Tuesday, December 02, 2003 ::
What really makes me wonder whether this republic can be saved, however, is the downward spiral in governance, the hijacking of public policy by private interests.
The new Medicare bill is a huge subsidy for drug and insurance companies, coupled with a small benefit for retirees. In comparison, the energy bill — which stalled last month, but will come back — has a sort of purity: it barely even pretends to be anything other than corporate welfare. Did you hear about the subsidy that will help Shreveport get its first Hooters restaurant?
Nerdy, short poetry: SciFaiku
The Daily Jive will be hanging out in Chicago for a few days... Finally fixed the archives.
:: Monday, December 01, 2003 ::
Rural Depression: The depopulation of the Great Plains (NYTimes)