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Saturday, March 27, 2004

From the Vaults...KAFKA and other literary musings... 

[This Bite artifact brushed up to remind our readers why the V.P. is called Cheny Dick]

KAFKA and other literary musings
It is common knowledge that Samsa is a simple consonant-only substitution for KAFKA in one of the last Century's greatest short pieces, "Metamorphosis" (in my opinion, nothing Kafka produced is better than "The Trial", perhaps the most haunting novella ever written..."Like a Dog!").

One wonders, then, if other simple-code/cipher messages are hidden in other great books? Substitute "ch" (a single consonant sound, fair game linguistically) for "m" and "n" for "b" and Moby Dick becomes "Cheny Dick". In the same book substituting "r" for "h" gives us Captain Arab, who from Hell's depth spits at Cheny Dick even after he has killed him. Hmmm, is Cheney analogous to a white whale, too easy that one. I think we're onto something. Wonder how old Moby's heart was, but Melville isn't saying (he's too busy describing in tedious detail how to prepare a luncheon eating the whale's heart; or how to keep Starbuck from popping up in every neighborhood on the ship, putting all the other potential ship officers out of business). Ever notice how old Moby's hidden away for most of the book...presumably in a "safe spot"? Or was he having quadruple bypass?

Switching gears, has anyone else noticed some of the oddities in other "great" literature? Here's a short list:
(1) The "Pilgrim's Progress"? How can a book slower-moving than Dan Quayle's associative cortex have "Progress" in the title?
(2) Why is Satan the only character with any personality in Milton's "Paradise Lost"? Maybe because Milton was an apologist for Cromwell? By the way, since I originally posted this article, Satan also showed he kicks some serious derriere on ice...getting 4 goals in a game and over 250 now for his career...that's 250 more than any other archangel!
(3) I've read "War and Peace", and I don't know what I think of Tolstoy's central theme; that is, that individuals do not make history, but history makes individuals. Wasn't Tolstoy writing this book to become famous and influence people's beliefs? Seems a bit like screaming for people to be quiet or drinking to prohibition to me...
(4) I guess I was way off base here, but I thought "Lord of the Rings" was going to be Michael Flatley (Lord of the Dance!) joining the circus. Come to think of it, he is an elf, right?
(5) Several have surmised that Bacon wrote Shakespeare. I agree with this. In fact, the letter probably went something like: "Dearest William, Pleaseth thee to send hither two tickets for thine next tragedy? I would wait in the cold to see one of your plays, Best regards, Frank."

-Vulf

Condo-Leasing for 60 minutes... 

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security advisor, is steering clear of public testimony on 9/11 because she wants to keep separation of powers? OK, I can think of a number of good reasons for her not to testify in public, including:

1. It's an election year, and this is sure to be issue #1, since national security is the screen behind which the "W"izard of Odd is hoping to hide till after November 2.
2. She had no foreknowledge of any national security issues before 9/11, and doesn't want this outed.
3. She's having a bad hair day.
4. Who cares? What's done is done. Obviously, if she and her team were on the ball, they'd have listened to James Woods and others about first class passengers hypnotized by the cockpit and comparing notes in whispers.

But separation of powers? We have a Republican President, a Republican Cabinet, a Republican Senate, a Republican House, a Republican Supreme Court, and a Republican gubernatorial majority. There is no possible separation. Also, if she can show up on 60 Minutes to respond to Clarke's allegations, she obviously has some free time at her avail. Separation of power and not talking to one another are two different issues.

One quick question. If the war on terror is going so well, why is Iraq, Sunni Triangle and beyond, still a place where U.S. soldiers have to buy their own armor? The terrorists are holding their own in Afghanistan, openly fighting in Iraq, and winning in Spain, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Israel (where both sides have terrorists, ensuring terrorist victory).

I hope you are just leasing the condo, Condoleezza. You might want to have those bags packed come Halloween. In a nation now so edgy about security, your job is akin to "iceberg finder" on the Titantic.

-Vulf

Friday, March 26, 2004

Don't you just hate...! Works for me... 

Wilk brought to our attention a disturbing series of incidents at the Claremont Colleges (A fine set of schools, even though one of them is --presumably eponymously-- named Harvey Mudd). Following Wilk's lead, I decide to see what merit there was to the hoax theory...here's one website adamantly in favor of the hoax theory:

Mrs. Gann also offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the individuals involved in the crime.

Two kids saw the professor vandalize her own car, so that leads me to wonder if they will be given the prize?

Before the professor was outed as being intolerant to white males with her pre-meditated attack on them, a message board of the school was alive with thoughts on the incident.


OK, the "Plainsman" author clearly is biased, however, as he continues:

The people who commit these hoaxes are guilty of hate, in any other word. They are driven to commit these crimes out of an irrational hatred for white, heterosexual males, and attempt to create a climate of hostility toward them by claiming permanent victim status.

In the American justice system, I thought that you were innocent until proven guilty? But when it comes to "hate" incidents, the finger is quickly pointed in the direction of the conservative (thus bigoted) white male.

In most cases, all those who fall in this category are labeled has holding views that are hostile to minorities.

These type of 'hate' crime hoaxes show where the true intolerance exists.


Anyone else notice the false assumptions the author is making? No one pointed at white males. Why wouldn't an Arab or black male also be possibly the perpetrator of anti-Semitic/anti-lesbian statements? Moreover, methinks he doth protest too much...the use of "conservative" shows that HE associates hate crimes with conservatives. That's a very strange association on his part, as he claims to be conservative. As they say in the psychology field (or at least they did until Freud's follower(s?) became worried it implied cross-dressing on the part of his/their hero), that's a Freudian slip.

Moreover, saying they "attempt to create a climate of hostility toward them [meaning white males] by claiming permanent victim status" is over the top. Most chronic victims are actually self-centered, and are trying to create pity for themselves through chronic victimhood. The victimizer is usually a Golem, a nameless faceless other.

The Plainsman, however, is tempered compared to FrontPage Magazine, which commits the exact type of "Joe Schmoe is Hitler" hyperbole Wilk rightfully decries.

The twentieth century's vilest totalitarian regimes perfected several techniques for the control of civilian populations. Among these techniques is the commission of a horrible crime together with the attribution of responsibility for the crime to political enemies.

Perhaps the most famous example of this technique is the incident involving the burning of the Reichstag in late February 1933. Hitler and the Nazis immediately accused the Communists of setting the fire. A great deal of evidence collected and analyzed by Walther Hoferand and others, however, points in the direction of the Nazis themselves. (See, e.g., "The World at War: The Reichstag Fire," by Soren Swigart.)

A less well known but at least equally consequential example is the incident involving the 1934 assassination of Stalin rival Sergei Kirov in Leningrad by one of Stalin's goons. Stalin used the assassination that he himself had engineered to foment hysteria among the populace of the Soviet Union and to provide the pretext for the murder of millions of his countrymen. Lev Navrozov memorably recounts the contemporary effects of Stalin's public relations campaign regarding the assassination in his memoir The Education of Lev Navrozov, and Robert Conquest methodically traces the evidence implicating Stalin in Stalin and the Kirov Murder.

Campus leftists have lately taken over this technique of political control and used it for their own malign purposes. Employing the Reichstag gambit, campus leftists have staged "hate crimes" to impose a climate of conformity empowering the diversity police and their friends among the governing powers. The Claremont Colleges of southern California provide the most recent if not the most outrageous illustration of this phenomenon.


Oh, my. I wonder who the "diversity police" are? And isn't California governed by a Republican at both the State and National level? And, pardon me, but isn't the Inland Empire a little less liberal than Los Angeles?

So, if I was (perhaps fairly) called to task for mentioning (albeit with four other items interposed) pedophilia and Nader the Hater (see? The Left can hate, too...my point above!) in the same sentence, this is really over the top. Hitler, Stalin, then campus leftists. Hmmm. No ax to grind there.

A more measured article is given by the Sacbee.

"If, in fact, she did do this, why in the world would SHE not be charged with a hate crime?" wrote one reader, echoing the concerns of many others. "I mean, if she wrote those horrible, racist words on her car, is she indeed not guilty of a hate crime?" ... But California law seems clear that a hate crime is defined as an act against another person, not against yourself. Of course, what lawmaker could have foreseen a scenario like that?

I think this is a more fair assessment. If, in fact, Kerri Dunn faked the whole incident, there are at least three logical reasons I can find: (a) she has been receiving more covert hate messages, and wanted to draw attention in a more overt manner; (b) she wanted the attention and notoriety which she has indeed attained; or (c) she is mentally unbalanced. I vote for (c) myself. And I don't see her message as being a left/right issue. Why has U.S. society become so dichotomy-obsessed? This is clearly a troubled person.

Everyone on "the right" does not hate diversity, Jews, lesbians, and women. Everyone on "the left" does not welcome diversity and fake hate crimes to induce pity. Kerri Dunn needs help--either protection from her enemies, or more likely protection from herself.

-Vulf


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Hates crimes 

Here is a distressing item involving my alma mater. It seems that the Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California have become a hotbed of hate crimes and racial tension.

The problems came to a head when a visiting psychology professor challenged her class to wake up and stand up to hate crimes (she was reacting to specific events - such as a cross-burning - done by drunks who said they had meant no harm - a fraternity that made its members go on a treasure hunt during which one task was to photograph 10 Asian Americans and a poster of GW Carver on which someone had written the N-word. There may have been other occurences but these are the ones I heard of). A rally was held, during which the same professor said something to the effect that hate crime perpetrators should go to hell (nice touch to combat hate with hate don't you think?).

Apparently sometime after the rally, the professor walked to her car to find that it had been vandalised - tires slashed and groovy slogans such as "kike whore" etc. written on it (For context: the professor happens to be gay (I believe) and was raised catholic but is in the process of converting to Judiasm.) This event led the 5-college administration to cancel classes and hold campus-wide rallies and discussions.

Later - during the investigation - two witnesses came forward to state that they had watched as the professor vandalised her own car. She is on paid leave until the matter can be investigated further.

I realize that I have been out of the States for a very long time because I often am caught by surprise by events in the United States. Now, I have no idea if the accusations against the professor are true - let's face it, someone may have a lot invested in painting her as the perpetrator - but faking a hate crime is very serious in my view as it dilutes the whole issue the same way the phrase "Joe Schmoe is Adolf Hitler" dilutes the meaning of true evil.

Wilk

I thought Vulf had sworn off the Economist... 

Nice refutation. And the scary thing is that the economy in other countries is in even worse shape and job creation is equally - if not more - stagnant.

Does anyone else think that Vulf is wasting his talents at HP? Do you have a good radio voice? Time to hit the airwaves!

Wilk

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Economist contends that the disparity between rich and poor is not exacerbating... 

And I will argue here they are dead wrong.

Let's look at The Economist article first (I use much of it here so I won't quote out of context)...Economist text in italics, my analysis in plain text...

ANOTHER month, another dismal set of job figures. America pulled out of its last economic recession way back in November 2001, yet the country's “jobs recession” finished only last autumn, by when 2.7m jobs had been lost since the start of the slowdown. Now, though economic growth has bounced back, new jobs refuse to do the same in this, the third year of recovery. In February, a mere 21,000 jobs were created, according to the official payroll survey, at a time when George Bush's economists forecast 2.6m new jobs for 2004. Mounting alarm at the White House, and increased calls for protection against what a growing number of Americans see as the root of most ills: the “outsourcing” of jobs to places like China and India. Last week the Senate approved a bill that forbids the outsourcing of government contracts—a curious case of a government guaranteeing not to deliver value-for-money to taxpayers. American anxiety over the economy appears to have tipped over into paranoia and self-delusion.

OK. I agree many Americans are too focused on whether they have a job or not, and that takes away productivity and more importantly happiness and work/life balance. However, when manufacturing jobs are burger-flipping and many of my high-tech friends are without work but not on the unemployment figures, it makes me wonder what the real numbers are. It is not India and China, folks, it's the economic disingenuity of the current Administration. They are cooking the US economic books the same way Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, WorldCom and others cooked their books till 2002. You can move around figures, print worthless money, but you can't force moribund companies to hire.

Too strong? Not really. As The Economist has recently argued—though in the face of many angry readers—the jobs lost are mainly a cyclical affair, not a structural one. They must also be set against the 24m new jobs created during the 1990s. Certainly, the slow pace of job-creation today is without precedent, but so were the conditions that conspired to slow a booming economy at the beginning of the decade. A stockmarket bubble burst, and rampant business investment slumped. Then, when the economy was down, terrorist attacks were followed by a spate of scandals that undermined public trust in the way companies were run. These acted as powerful headwinds and, in the face of them, the last recession was remarkably mild. By the same token, the recovery is mild, too. Still, in the next year or so, today's high productivity growth will start to translate into more jobs. Whether that is in time for Mr Bush is another matter.

What kind of jobs is another story. Most high-tech businesses are now what manufacturing businesses were in the 1970's. Stale and ready to implode. The economy needs the kind of boost that only global trust and prosperity can bring. It feels a lot more like 1973 than 1993 right now, so economic pessimism may not be misplaced. The problem is the Economist --and most other economists-- cannot envision an economy without growth. The world is still finite, though. Perhaps the approach--Low Carbon Economy--being proposed by Canada, New Zealand, and others, is more appropriate.

As for outsourcing, it is implausible now, as Lawrence Katz at Harvard University argues, to think that outsourcing has profoundly changed the structure of the American economy over just the past three or four years. After all, outsourcing was in full swing—both in manufacturing and in services—throughout the job-creating 1990s. Government statisticians reckon that outsourced jobs are responsible for well under 1% of those signed up as unemployed. And the jobs lost to outsourcing pale in comparison with the number of jobs lost and created each month at home. Even here, the rate of job “churn” has, for unclear reasons, been falling since mid-2001.

I agree with this assessment. If your job can be outsourced, you have stopped growing in it. If you feel trapped by your skillset and the corporate morass into which you have poured your soul, blaming a skilled professional in India or China hardly seems fair.

Waiting for the job recovery might be a good time to take a broader measure of the material well-being of Americans. Their condition is widely held to be perilous. The economy, it is said, is being “hollowed out” by international competition and the connivance of business and political elites, creating “two Americas”, one rich, one poor. Median income of American households, commentators often say, has been stagnant, though census figures give a rise of one-fifth since 1980. Lou Dobbs, on CNN's “Lou Dobbs Tonight”, is just one media fabulist who makes his living by claiming that, as America is being “exported”, so the well-being of middle Americans is in a parlous state.

I'm so glad they said "parlous" rather than "perilous" in the last sentence, it's "value-added" in corporate lingo. If median income has risen by one-fifth since 1980...well, here are the inflation rates since then:

1980 13.48
1981 10.36
1982 6.16
1983 3.21
1984 4.37
1985 3.54
1986 1.86
1987 3.66
1988 4.12
1989 4.81
1990 5.39
1991 4.22
1992 3.01
1993 2.98
1994 2.60
1995 2.76
1996 2.96
1997 2.35
1998 1.51
1999 2.21
2000 3.38
2001 2.86
2002 1.58

(please click here to get the website with this information)

This means, discounting 1980's inflation rate, that $1.00 in 1981 is $2.18 in today's money, which means an increase in mean income of 118% would be required to keep up with inflation. This means the Economist article has now crossed over into fiction...let's see, you're making $30,000 in 1980, and today, due to a "one-fifth" increase, you're now making $36,000. Nice, except you need $65,400 to stay even. [I am being tongue-in-cheek here...I'm sure they meant "corrected mean income", but they did not say that!]

It is a good story, but false on many levels. For a start, this slow growth in median income overlaps with a scale of immigration into America outpacing all immigration in the rest of the world put together. Many immigrants have come precisely to take up the lowest-paid jobs. As a result, in the 20 years to 1999 some 5m immigrant households were added to those defined as below the poverty level. Yet among native-born Americans, poverty rates have declined steadily since the 1960s. In the case of black families, median incomes have recently been rising at twice the pace for the country as a whole.

False? No, $36,000 is less than $65,400. You were being false. Also, immigration rates were somewhat higher than in the 1970's, but nowhere near Turn-Of-The (20th) Century levels

Decade . . . . . . . . . . . Immigrants (millions) . . . Rate (% of population)
1901 to 1910 . . . . . . . . 8,795 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10.4
1911 to 1920 . . . . . . . . 5,736. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.7
1921 to 1930 . . . . . . . . 4,107. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.5
1931 to 1940 . . . . . . . . 528 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.4
1941 to 1950 . . . . . . . . 1,035 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.7
1951 to 1960 . . . . . . . . 2,515 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.5
1961 to 1970 . . . . . . . . 3,322 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.7
1971 to 1980 . . . . . . . . 4,493 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1
1981 to 1990 . . . . . . . . 7,338 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1
1991 to 2000 . . . . . . . . 9,095 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.4

That's great, I like to see American's outsourcing their poverty to the newcomers. As if that's a new trend. Too bad they didn't think of that in the 1970's, when immigrants were handed bags of gold and the Country Club set were out begging in the street. And how about those "black families"...they went from $30,000 to $42,000, so hey they have almost 2/3 of what they had in real money in 1980 by the above.

They continue...

Strip out immigrants, and the picture of stagnant median incomes vanishes. Indeed, for the nine-tenths of the population that is native-born, middle-income trends continue their improvement of the 1950s and 1960s. For these people, inequality is not rising, but falling. Gregg Easterbrook cheekily points out in his excellent recent book, “The Progress Paradox” (Random House), that if left-leaning Americans seriously want better statistics about middle-income gains, then they should simply close their borders.

Nice commentary. Aren't immigrants people, too? The Economist doesn't seem to think so. And we've earlier blogged on the disparity between the richest 1% and the 50-90th percentile (in other words, the upper half of the 80% in the "middle". This disparity has risen considerably in the past two decades. Now it really gets contrived...

Mr Easterbrook points to something else about the figures for median household income. A quarter-century ago a typical household had three members. Today, it has just 2.6 members. Simply by this effect, median households have seen their real incomes rise by a half.

Let's see...$36,000 for 2.6 people instead of 3 corrects to only $41,538, still well short of the Mendoza Line of $65,400.

Another measure of improved well-being is increased access to jobs. Between 1980 and 2002 Americans in work rose by over 40%, a far brisker pace than the 26% growth in the population. Some three-quarters of the adult population are now in work, close to a record and some ten percentage points higher than in Europe.

One reason is more teenagers in work: over the same period, teenage employment grew by nearly two-thirds. As Andrew Hacker points out in the New York Review of Books, teenagers are a significant source of low-paid labour in supermarkets, shopping malls and fast-food franchises. Exploitative? Hardly, since it helps them buy cars and independence.

Yet the chief reason for higher participation is more women in work, notably married women. Very roughly, in the past half-century the average weekly hours worked by married women have tripled, while hours worked by men and single women have stayed about constant. The usual reason given is that married women have had to work so that families can make ends meet. A recent study* by three economists, Larry Jones, Rodolfo Manuelli and Ellen McGrattan, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, punctures that notion. They find that the tripling of married women's hours can be explained entirely by a gender wage-gap that has narrowed. That is, a smaller pay differential between men and women gives married women sufficient incentive to invest in education and careers.

Of course, many American households struggle to survive on minimum-wage jobs with employers who do them few favours. We will look at low-paid work in a future week. What this piece attempts to argue is that the middle is far from being hollowed out. As Mr Easterbrook emphasises, most Americans have at least two cars and their own house, and they send their children to college. Certainly a bigger share of household income is being spent on things that did not feature 50 years ago, such as high-tech health care. But it has brought the benefit of a longer and better life, and not just for the old: since 1980, infant mortality has fallen by 45%.

At the end of last year, America's household wealth, at $44 trillion, passed the previous peak set in early 2000. With Americans wealthier than ever, why are many so anxious? Perhaps they think prosperity will vanish in a puff of terrorist smoke or a housing-market collapse. Perhaps, tentatively, the suburbs, in which half of Americans live, are to blame. For the suburbs fulfil the American dream, but at a price. On the one hand comes greatly increased space: the typical American dwelling now has two rooms per person, double Europe's level or America's half a century ago. On the other hand, expectations grow for every family member to have her own computer, DVD player—and another car. Pile on top of that an annual family holiday by plane, a bass-fishing boat (Americans spend $25 billion a year on boats and jet-skis) and regular meals out (Americans now spend nearly half their food dollars in restaurants). The American dream may cost less than it used to, but it still comes dear. And in a sated society, there is less and less new to look forward to.


Here their logic completely implodes. More and more teenagers and women are working, while the house size gets smaller. Thus, a much greater percentage of those living in the house have jobs. Real wages, then, must be plummeting and there is no margin for error, because everyone's already working. Life expectancy at birth has increased by 3.5 years since 1980, but health care costs are increasing by an untenable 10%+ each year. Household wealth is based on a real estate bubble of unprecedented proportions...as we've pointed out before, the ratio of house prices to wages is the highest it's ever been.

This, then, is a classic Economist article. Selective use of facts and statistics without exploring the real trends. By the way, in case you think the disparity is not increasing, see these facts right from the US census figures...

. . . . . . . . Low 20% . . Next 20% . .Mid 20% . . Next 20% . . Upper 20% . .Upper 5%
2001 . . . . $10,136 . . $25,468 . . .$42,629 . . $66,839 . . . $145,970 . . . $260,464
1980 . . . . . $4,483 . . $10,819 . . .$17,807 . . $26,219 . . . $46,053 . . . . $66,617
Ratio: . . . . . 2.26 . . . . 2.35 . . . . . 2.39 . . . . . 2.55 . . . . . 3.17 . . . . . . 3.91

Hmm...if Ratio numbers get larger as we move to the right, disparity is increasing. These ratios account for everything at once, it is simply how much those different portions of the income distribution are making now compared to 1980. I rest my case.

-Vulf

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Paul Krugman's article... 

I'm sure Wilk meant no double entendre...I want nothing to do with Nader, above or below the belt.

As for Krugman's article, it was a good opinion piece--my Catalan friend suggested, "Quizas quieres blogir de esto un poco..." but Wilk beat me to it.

It closes with the following:

In the Bush vision, it was never legitimate to challenge any piece of the administration's policy on Iraq. Before the war, it was your patriotic duty to trust the president's assertions about the case for war. Once we went in and those assertions proved utterly false, it became your patriotic duty to support the troops -- a phrase that, to the administration, always means supporting the president. At no point has it been legitimate to hold Mr. Bush accountable. And that's the way he wants it.

Any time a credible dissent surfaces, the administration either diverts the issue, challenges the "patriotism" of the observer, or blames the French (why are the French singled out when Germany and Russia are just as adamant? Because Chirac scheduled an impromptu press conference during "W"'s visit there a little over a year ago and made a fool of him). As Wilk points out, many "new European" countries--including the geopolitical powerhouses Poland, Iceland and Denmark--support the U.S. position in Iraq.

But many more do not. From Russia to China to France to Germany to Canada to Italy (Berluscronies excepted), to even increasingly Japan--which combined are a superpower to offset U.S. hegemony. Bush is already losing--that's right, losing--the war on terror. He is also losing the geopolitical battle.

The Economist, a frequent target of mine, even admits that the terrorists won in Spain. Of course, this admission is dated March 18th. I have to mention their article on March 12th (which is premium--i.e. you must pay to read--content on their website now, so I'll save you the cost), which states "Coming just three days before a general election which the ruling conservatives now seem even more likely to win..." (Economist Volume 370, Number 8366, p. 49 in the newsstand copy). More likely? I beg to differ.

Goodbye Aznar. Goodbye conservatives. Who will follow? The U.S.? Australia? The U.K.? One can only hope.

-Vulf

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