Monday, May 31, 2004

More Grist for the Mill

Still hardly definitive, but nonetheless another webpage explaining the problems with comparative advantage/free trade models. More to come.

Hot time in the old town tonight

There's a lively debate (or at least, a debate) going on between Geoff and I on multiple fronts over at Geoffland. When I first read his blog, I hadn't realized we disagreed fundamentally on so many things; but he's got a really thoughtful blog, so I guess this may be my first test of my supposed motto of taking all well-thought comers (and accepting the possibility they may be right, until I can argue otherwise).

A current contention between us is basically the old "free trade: good or bad?" argument. (I'll assume for starters that he's not a big Noam Chomsky fan.)

I hope to develop my essays on this more fully in the future, but here's some initial free trade bits about how I feel:

1) The theory of comparative advantage doesn't apply.
You heard me. This is one of the arguments trotted out for free trade (tellingly though, it seems like this argument slips away under serious contention and the benefits to the US personally come to replace it). Although our neoclassical/neoliberal economists seem to have slinked away from John Maynard Keynes and David Ricardo insofar as they've taken some of their ideas and declared them brilliant, and others and declared them bunk, despite the fact that in some cases the brilliant ideas depended logically on the so-called bunk ones. Comparative advantage, specifically, made an assumption of relatively fixed capital, which is not the case for much of today's trade. In other words, Ricardo anticipated that when Country A and Country B had different production possibility horizons (I think that's the term), say, Country A is best at making wine and B is best at making, I don't know, bread, it made sense for each one to specialize. This being the case under the assumption that A has something B can't get that makes it better, and vice versa -- i.e. wine in France depends a lot on local soil conditions, and such conditions can't easily be moved or substituted in other places. Cost of labor was not a comparative advantage in the original formulation. (I know, I know, I need to source all this... no time today, it'll come.) The fact that we can pay people in other countries very little money to make stuff isn't an immovable capital; and by the same token, most capital *is* movable today, in that you can build a car factory almost anywhere. And Keynes himself made an argument for some degree of lessened trade in one of his later works: "I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel--these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national. Yet, at the same time, those who seek to disembarrass a country of its entanglements should be very slow and wary. It should not be a matter of tearing up roots but of slowly training a plant to grow in a different direction. For these strong reasons, therefore, I am inclined to the belief that, after the transition is accomplished, a greater measure of national self-sufficiency and economic isolation among countries than existed in 1914 may tend to serve the cause of peace, rather than otherwise." (This quote would also be a good jumping off point for a copyright/patent flaw discussion, but some other time.)

Of course, some just took this as proof he was looney in his old age (and he did follow this paragraph by saying "each will remain entitled to his own opinion" in these questions of "doubtful judgement"). Methinks assuming he was crazy cuz he started disagreeing with modern ideology, well... that's more than a bit condescending...

2) National borders are relatively impermeable to labor.
This strikes many people as a good thing (keeps out the 'unwashed masses' and all that). I'm not going to make a statement on immigration/emigration per se, but rather that it was my understanding that under economic assumptions, labor is mobile -- i.e. labor is able to flow to the place where there is most demand (i.e. labor can fetch the highest price), such that efficiency is achieved because those who are able to do the work at the best (lowest) price will compete down the price of labor, and efficiency results (invisible hand and all that). That may appear to be what's happening; but the fact is, if there is a global capital and goods market that flows from country to country, the labor market should follow suit. In other words, labor should move as freely between countries as money, capital, and goods. I doubt many argue that this is currently the case. Thus, the fact that most labor is anchored in other countries (i.e. not every Thai worker can immigrate here to the US) is a barrier to economic efficiency, as far as I understand (again, hopefully this will be sourced later). It would seem prima facie that a market where companies (and company headquarters) move freely from country to country, and Ford and Dow and all can build factories wherever they wish, that the laborers should have as much ability to move, in order to balance the market. I would say, for example, until the victims of The Bhopal Disaster can move to the US and enjoy the same protections and responsibilities available here, that "free market" just means "capturing those who can't do any better." A labor pool unable to compete for better labor prices seems unlike economic efficiency to me.

3) The export of environmental problems is a severe cost that is not mitigated by regulations in countries we export it to.
Environmental problems are almost always externalities. They are not sufficiently enforced here in the US; they certainly are not sufficiently enforced abroad. And the idea that wealth (i.e. higher GDP) will bring environmental improvement (the so-called Environmental Kuznets Curve) has been shown repeated to be false (links to come). In other words, exporting our industries to other countries seems to gaurantee them environmental problems now and for an indefinite amount of time into the future. See work by Daniel Faber, for a start.

4) The US has no INTEREST in free trade.
Actual free trade is composed of some kind of quid-pro-quo (unless you understand the use of force or the threat of the use of force as a valid economic tool). As has been commented many times before, competition is *good* for economic efficiency; but all companies will naturally try and minimize competition, which will tend to drive up costs and/or drive down profits (i.e. in a perfectly efficient economy, all chances for profits should be immediately exploited and rapidly diminish to a lower equilibrium). So other countries becoming economic rivals to the US should be a good thing for consumers, right?

Perhaps. But we won't allow that to happen. Intervention in Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and pre-revolution Cuba, as well as many other places, has tried to put a stop to people too ambitious for economic independence (i.e. possible generators of competition). In Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz (the democratically elected president in 1951) was overthrown by the US when he tried to expropriate unused United Fruit Company land, while offering the price that *their tax filings said it was worth*. This expropriation was for the purpose of land/agrarian reform (widespread land distribution is said by some economists to be necessary before an economy can be "developed"; i.e. the squatters of early US history); UFC insisted the land was worth some 20 or 30 times what they had reported for tax purposes (the strong implication being "of course we valued it downward to assess it for tax, but as for it's actual worth, of course that's much higher" -- in otherwords -- "what do you mean we can't screw you twice?"). A CIA operation, under the approval of Pres. Eisenhower (and under the guise of fighting the Communist threat) helped topple Arbenz and replace him with a brutal dictator. (So I'm going to have to disagree with Geoff when he says the US is "the nation most willing to consistently apply [our ideals]", though he admits our failure to sometimes "realize" them.) This is not asimilar to the US' toppling of the Iranian president and installation of the Shah. (A detailed search of FOIA about our extra-national activities is a long-term goal of the J Continuum. Stay tuned.)

The US has shown a willingness to crush any other country that poses a serious challenge to our economic interests.

This does not create a healthy international market, imho.

More on the flaws with capitalist dogma at a later date.


Saturday, May 29, 2004

HI MJ!!!!

My friend "MJ" is having a shitty day. (MJ is neither me, nor Mary Jane of Spiderman Spousal fame.)

Everyone wave and say "HI, BEE!" (a nickname), and wish her a happy day and brightest blessings and good energy.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Iraq has a population of 25 million, not 15 million as written somewhere in morass below.

It's got a lovely bunch of coconuts

Go to today's Today's Papers column in Slate for a bunch of what seem to me to be VERY important tidbits.

#1: USA Today did something clever: "USA Today's subhead artfully captures the moment, "Occupation Will End Soon; Troops Remain Indefinitely." (Contrast this to the horrible Slate subheads I've complained about on Slate's Fray.)

#2: Again, from today's Today's Papers: "What do the papers do when a much-anticipated presidential speech turns out to be vacuous? They play it big and straight anyway—and in the process help mislead readers." TP regularly does a good job of pointing out a very few of the many places I feel the media's letting us down. Sadly, few people actually supposed to be receiving the information (read: everyone in the US) doesn't read TP... or watch or read the news at all. There'd be problem enough making informed public decisions with a straightforward media. How screwed are we with a misleading one?

#3: Did you LISTEN to Bush's speech? Vacuous. I agree. I figured out that's why I wasn't offended. I'd heard it all before, so there was nothing new to get angry about...

#4: #3, of course, is not directly one of the revelations from TP. But it's related...

#5: The one thing I was actually kinda excited about in the speech, the apparent shift in Iraqi sovereignty plans: no dice. As recently as April it was reported that the sovereignty would be partial. Prezzy Prez G-Dub promised "full sovereignty" yesterday so forcefully, I actually believed this was a shift! Doh. TP reveals today that "articles inside the papers say that the draft Security Council resolution the U.S. and Britain offered yesterday doesn't give it. Most crucially, it doesn't give the still unnamed temporary government the power to ask foreign troops to leave or to overrule missions." And actually reading selections from a search of the White House website confirms that there will not be "full sovereignty" given over today if by that term, you mean both "full" and "sovereignty", although the White House has been maintaining that it will give full sovereignty over on June 30th for at least a while...

#6: Recovering from my shock at the fact that "our" "President's" plan for Iraqi "sovereignty" comes with sovereignty not included (clue: start at the bottom of the transcript and work up), another TP tidbit is, somewhat unsurprisingly, the claims that Gen. Sanchez, allied commander in Iraq, "was going to be replaced anyway, and, you know, it just happened to be now, and no, we never planned to promote him, but if we ever did, we don't now, and that's completely irrelevant to what's been in the news and polls today, and to reiterate, everything's normal, everything's fine, things are completely under control" are bunk and they were not planning on pulling Sanchez, or delaying his promotion, at least according to several different sources TP synthesizes.

#7: Bush's numbers keep dropping. Yaaaaaay. If only Kerry weren't... well, where to start. But maybe Bush's numbers will get low enough that the "Left" will finally feel "safe" to vote for, well, you know, the Left candidate (Nader). Nader is not the perfect person everyone seems to demand a 3rd party candidate be. But I believe in his policies, no matter how drily (dryly? no, hm (sp)) he voices them. You know, a candidate unlike Kerry, who doesn't say "Well, I'm against gay marriage, but for civil unions, but yes I attended a gay marriage recently, but no that doesn't mean I support it, because marriage is between a man and a woman, but we shouldn't take away people's rights." I don't mind so much the man's (Kerry's) qualified, complicated answers; some things are complicated and require qualification. The problem is, he's qualifiedly equivocal on things I strongly believe in. (Is it just me, or is it REALLY bad when your candidate STARTS his major campaigning equivocally? If you can't make bold promises before you're elected, when are you going to make them? Much less bold decisions. As West Wing has "shown", once you're elected, you don't start fulfilling your promises, you start worrying about burning bridges for your re-election campaign, and midterms...)

#8: Wow, this is longer than I planned. Let's speed it up. TP Revelation 8: The Pentagon's claims of the isolatedness of abuse takes another hit, as another person has stepped forward and said he was abused (at Gitmo). Unfortunately, the Pentagon claims as always that they investigate all credible claims. This guy, I'm sure they say indulgently, just doesn't have credible claims... just like the 3(?) Iraqi Reuters employees, the AP employee, the Afghan police colonel... (ps Hey, Afghanistan, remember them? Maybe we could get the world community to follow through on their aid to Afghanistan if we drew attention to it again; out of media, out of mind. Maybe if MTV did a "I Love The 00s" or "I Love the Places We Bombed Right Before This One" -- instant nostalgia could finally do some good!)

#9: Still rambling... Apparently (still in TP) some military officers didn't like the un-Geneva-like behavior at Abu Ghraib, so they signed off on a document with the CIA that puts prisoners not supervised under the Red Cross off-the-books (so thus, they don't have to deny the Red Cross access -- they can just deny the prisoners exist). (Apparently the CIA signer was "James Bond." A nom de guerre? If so, a) is this legal, and b) in any case, can we find out if this was simply to keep any subsequent investigation from finding this CIA agent easily, or is her/his name realy James Bond? Additional bonus unresolved question: Would the agent then go by Jimmy Bond, or whatever stupid name the added cast member to the "I was born to jump the shark" series, The Lone Gunmen?)

#10: Lab closing in 15 minutes... promise to go home and work immediately after class slipping from a small fib to a large self-deception... TP's last point is that the ~2,000 missing pages from the Congress' copy of the Taguba report on US prisoner abuses may include a section ("Draft Update") explicitly for SecDef "Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns" Rummy, who said he never read the report (and perhaps added, "I may or may not have been the SecDef when it happened, or indeed, the SecDef right now. And let me tell you exactly why "I'm under oath" doesn't mean what you think it does..."") (..."i do not think that word means what you think it means"... couldn't resist!) Important follow-up that pesos'll get you dollars will not be done soon by NYT, WaPo, or other major media: Did he perjure himself? What are the real facts here? Did they make a draft for him that he didn't bother to read? Isn't that bad too? (Similarly, the missing 2,000 pages is a "clerical error" or some such.)

(and not from TP but your super-bonus question for my current readership of nowt: Didn't Slate say classifying the Taguba report might've been illegal? Yes, Fred Kaplan did! Direct link to his source: here. What's up with this? If true, shouldn't someone report it on mainstream news? And shouldn't the attempt of the gov't to reclassify the report be illegal, only doubly so? sorry no link -- heard it on NPR this morning...)

And as the computer lab closes, so does this entry...

Repost from my rant on Slate's Fray

lians. has compiled (complete with sources for verifiability) cross-referenced reports of civilian deaths since the beginning of 2003, counting between 9,000 and 11,000 *reported* Iraqi civilian deaths. This number (~11,000) is also quoted by the major news sources (NPR, CNN at least), though their original sources are not clear. I believe, though I'm not sure, this number was also given in the testimony taken in the past month of Pentagon officials before Congress.

As this is de rigeur, I vociferously confirm that Hussein was murderous and genocidal. I can't yet figure out why it is necessary to point this out when arguing *not* that he's a good person, but rather that our actions is deposing this bad person were ill-advised (i.e. the one doesn't imply a negation of the other, making "Well do you like Saddam Hussein" something of a Straw Man). But there it is. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch, whom I would think some deference should be paid in this matter, does not consider the Iraq war a humanitarian intervention. (Of greater importance of course would be how Iraqis view it; I would say the earlier (2003) Zogby poll is equivocal; the recent USAT/CNN/Gallup Poll shows that Iraqis today, by large margins, think their country has been hurt by the war, it wasn't worth it, and conditions are the same or worse than they were before.) Considering the fact that the Iraqis did not and increasingly *do not* see the war as good for them, and the fact that 11,000 of their countrywomen and men and children have died, well--

Do you, Mr. Noah, consider your estimation of the war's good to be more important than that of those in the place we're supposed to be "saving"? And do you think that the loss of 11,000 lives makes an intervention thought to be humanitarian almost solely by us, who have lost ~800 lives (as well as 3,000 in the *unrelated* 9/11 attacks), just? Are we the ones to pronounce our work "good", and take a day of rest once we "finish"?

A last thought: we felt it was a world gone mad when 3,000 of our citizens (and a number of citizens of 80 other countries) died horribly in an act of pure hatred. 3,000 people out of 300 million.

The Iraqis have lost 11,000 civilians (and some several thousand Iraqi soldiers) in our "just war" (that, I reiterate, has no immediate logical connection to the primarily Saudi men involved in 9/11). 11,000 Iraqi civilians (~15,000 Iraqis total) in a country of 15 million. I an country 1/20th of our size, they lost 5 times as many people. Do they count less? Do we count more?

Does a noble cause someone devalue the worth of a life? Are 15,000 dead more justifiable than 3,000 because, at best/naivest, one action was one of hope, and the other of anger?

I believe, given the circumstances, this is not a rhetorical question. The answer is no.

Monday, May 24, 2004

post script

PS: A site I highly recommend on GP is Poor Mojo's Almanac(k). Go there. Now. Read of the Squid. And other things.

PPS: The aforementioned Jef once wondered aloud to me why people use Post Scripts in electronic communication. After all, he reasoned, the original raison d'etre for post scripts was so you wouldn't have to rewrite/retype a whole sheet to fit it in. In email, you can just scroll up and fix it. Hmm.

PPPS: I figured out the reason (not just now, actually, the PPPS is for dramatic/annoying effect): it negates the need for segues, so difficult in the braindump that often is an email (or blog posting).

A gente se fala.

"Are You HopefulCynic?" "I hope so, I'm wearing his underwear."

I really should tell some people (i.e. any people) that I have a blog. I don't feel that it's particularly likely anyone will look at this otherwise. Yessssss. (Said like Mr. Burns, with fingers steepled.)

I just had an idea that I wanted to put out there for any eventual readers... my friend Jef & I had long ago (3 years ago?) thought about making a magazine called "Il Manifesto" (before we knew there was some Italian magazine by that name; pesos'll get you dollars that it is in some way connected to PM Berlusconi (subparenthetical comment: no, they won't -- despite Berlusconi's Eliot Carver-like media monopoly (Carver, villain of Bond flick "Tomorrow Never Dies") in Italy, Il Manifesto is, somewhat unsurprisingly, an independent communist daily. Duh.)).

The (to us) funny irony would be that Il Manifesto would have no manifesto, in terms of explicit political agenda -- we'd publish anything that was well argued. (There is, of course, the question of what counts as well argued. Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly makes sense to some people. Christopher Hitchens, for god's sake, apparently still makes sense to somebody, because they still publish him at Slate. Same for Mickey Kaus. Personally, I think Fred Kaplan usually makes a hell of a lot of sense, which for others, simply proves that I'm biased. But I digress.) Further, I think, we'd have a running commentary, so we could attempt to actually *synthesize* some knowledge. A friend of a friend, who is an ex-journalist, wasn't immediately familiar with the idea of writing synthetically (random googled link to synthesis here), apparently because journalism is supposed to only report facts, and not synthesize, this apprarently being the reader's job. (Rant on this to come.) There's some sense in this, but as synthesis must start somewhere (i.e. despite the fact there are competing claims about, say, the Holocaust, or the earth's roundness, most media have already synthesized the claims into what seems to emerge as the facts of each case), why not explicitly do more of it? Not in all news, to be sure, and there's also the "arc" problem, like with TV shows -- how do you attract readers midway if they have to have read the previous ones to understand? Luckily, I am not the TV show Angel, and I'm not the WB, so I don't have to worry about ratings. If I'm lucky, someday I'll have the chance to sell my soul, only to choose to stay comparitively obscure and stay true to myself. Or something.

So the original (and originally short) idea I had was to do "Il Manifesto" here on Blogspot. So if anyone reads this, and has (what they think are) well-reasoned arguments on (practically) anything, I'd like to start it up. I had the idea while... er, on a "thinking throne", of a Group webBlog, or as I thought of it, a Grog. I then tried to think of a way to make it mesh with "Grok" (basically, to understand/absorb completely into your being; to symbolically (usually) eat an idea), like "The Grogk", or just "Grok" or "The Grok Grog."

They look pretty clumsy, writing them now.


If anyone's outthere sometime, feel free to contact me via comments on the Continuum (this Blog).


Sunday, May 23, 2004

If she can see farther than other people, it's because other people aren't as cool.

Oh, yeah -- I wanted to recommend to my readers (all none of you) that you read BeverlyMann's blog. She's a fellow poster to Slate, the neoliberal webmag (though I'm not sure she knows of me, as we've never directly exchanged comments I think). She is "BeverlyMann" on Slate as well, so you can look up her comments on that site's "The Fray", the discussion bulletin board. If you want to read stuff I've written up 'till now, of the general sort I'm starting this blog for, look up HopefulCynic.



Heyo, everybody.

So, I spent several hours yesterday compiling my thoughts into a jumble of Googled research on drinking and alcoholism (as part of a greater exegesis on counterintuitive/postnormal science).

Bottom line conclusion: USA's "Pffff, other COUNTRIES?" approach to believing in science (and disbelieving results in other civilizations) is, as usual, wrong, this time in regards to drinking. Binge drinking is lower in so-called "wet" cultures (places like France, Italy, and Germany where drinking is part of everyday life and not necessarily something banned so draconically until 21), and *much* higher in "dry" countries (UK, Ireland, Norway I think), though cirrhosis and other long-term problems are worse, generally, in "wet" countries. (But on the other hand, France has had huge success in cutting everyday drinking and cirrhosis by about 50%, in part by draconian rules on liqour advertising, i.e. NONE at sporting events... try to imagine that in the US w/o your head exploding.)

I'll post a link later, but if you google for ECAS (European Council(?) Alcohol Survey?), you'll find some of the 'fo.

Also, in counterintuitive/other COUNTRIES news, Slate ( recently had an article about how gay marriage has *not* destroyed hetero marriage in Scandinavia. (Raise your hand if you're surprised.) (Ok, you, you there with your hand up: yeah, you. Slap yourself.) I suppose this isn't exactly counterintuitive (it seems rather reasonable to me), but I guess it fits into the larger "counterintuitive" theme -- at best there's inconclusive evidence that a culture more accepting of diverse sexuality actually *encourages* it. Kids seem to grow up straight or gay somewhat independent of their parent's sexuality (though again this is not scientifically concrete). The whole "that which is verboten I must do" ethic does seem to be an unavoidable side-effect, though, in both drinking and sexuality. (Cf. also birth control/contraceptive use, and, you guessed it, other countries' success in teaching these without necessarily increasing teenage sexuality. I'll google some links to this later.)

Anyway, before I lose this post too to computer malfuckntion, the reason I've drawn you here today: this is sort of a lackluster first post, but I've been fiendishly reading exegeses of the Matrix movies (or as I prefer, the Matrices), and I am proud to say that I was right and most everyone else was wrong. There's a whole MESS of imagery and very well-done deliberate story weaving there, ESPECIALLY in the second one. This confirms (in part) my theory that US audiences are hostile to movies that exist on both a semi-literal and subtextual level. (I've forgotten my other examples, but they're there dammit.) So to read a quite *excellent* analysis of the last two Matrices, go here and here. I cannot claim to be anywhere as smart or well-read as these guys, but I'm kinda proud that I saw the tip of the massive iceberg they uncovered.

P.s. YAY!

It's always nice not to be the lone voice in the woods (is that from Emerson? Am I making that up?).

Alas, I can't think of any clever uses of my new matrix-knowledge to vampishly pun here, so I'll post this before it goes away.

If I can see farther than other (hu)man(s), it's because other (hu)man(s) are short-sighted,