Nothing a little Photoshop can't fix: Kf's spinoff automotive blog, "Gearbox," has a sophisticated exegesis of the German Expressionist aesthetics now incorporated in consumer transportation products. ... Plus pix of how the new BMW could look really bitchin' ... 1:11 P.M.
Thursday, January 2, 2003 Nothing a little Bauhaus can't fix? Can architecture change culture? Specifically, can spiffing up the design turn an unsafe public housing project into a decent place to live? I'm skeptical. The Archer Courts housing project in Chicago could be a good test case for this proposition, since the architect who remodeled it seems to have done an exceptionally good job, judging from the photos in today's NYT. But there's no way to reach a conclusion because Gwenda Blair's accompanying text seems so naive and credulous. ... A few actual statistics on the incidence of crime at the project, instead of bland tell-the-reporter-what-she-wants quotes -- "Every day I thank the people who made my apartment better" -- would help. Also, if the project is in fact safer, is it because a) the new Mondrian-like curtain wall has instilled a sense of pride; b) the new fences have kept criminals out; c) the new, private owners are able to evict bad tenants without worrying about due process requirements that hamstrung the old owner, the Chicago Housing Authority; or d) the surrounding community has been transformed by gentrification? By a general crime decline? Or by welfare reform! ... You get the impression Blair's editors didn't want to delve too deeply into these issues, because it might have muddied up the planned, comforting message -- that the ghettos would be nice places to live if only the "haves" were generous enough to pay for a good remodeling. ...7:46 P.M.
Thursday, January 2, 2003
Nothing a little Bauhaus can't fix? Can architecture change culture? Specifically, can spiffing up the design turn an unsafe public housing project into a decent place to live? I'm skeptical. The Archer Courts housing project in Chicago could be a good test case for this proposition, since the architect who remodeled it seems to have done an exceptionally good job, judging from the photos in today's NYT. But there's no way to reach a conclusion because Gwenda Blair's accompanying text seems so naive and credulous. ... A few actual statistics on the incidence of crime at the project, instead of bland tell-the-reporter-what-she-wants quotes -- "Every day I thank the people who made my apartment better" -- would help. Also, if the project is in fact safer, is it because a) the new Mondrian-like curtain wall has instilled a sense of pride; b) the new fences have kept criminals out; c) the new, private owners are able to evict bad tenants without worrying about due process requirements that hamstrung the old owner, the Chicago Housing Authority; or d) the surrounding community has been transformed by gentrification? By a general crime decline? Or by welfare reform! ... You get the impression Blair's editors didn't want to delve too deeply into these issues, because it might have muddied up the planned, comforting message -- that the ghettos would be nice places to live if only the "haves" were generous enough to pay for a good remodeling. ...7:46 P.M.
Democrats: 'We're just not mean and simplistic enough!' From the NYT yesterday--
Liberal radio programs have not worked very well in the past. Liberals and conservatives said they believed this was in part because the most prominent liberal hosts have tended to present policy issues in all of their dry complexity while refraining from baring fangs against conservative opponents.
Talk about pathetic, comforting myths! As John Ellis notes, regarding the general we-need-a-Fox line of thinking among Democrats:
If Democrats believe that they are losing elections because the media are not liberal enough, then they really ought to just give up.
P.S.: At some point, in its ongoing coverage of the relative power of liberal and conservative "media voices," isn't the NYT going to have to discuss itself? Or would that be "unseemly and self-absorbed"? 2:28 A.M.
Food Stamps and the English Language: The editorial board of the New York Times declares:
In fact, food stamps are not welfare, not even charity, but a nutrition program that helps the poor buy food.
I love the bogus, whistling-past-the-graveyard authority of "In fact." ... Of course food stamps are welfare, under virtually all definitions of the term. The most common definition-- and my definition -- would define "welfare" as assistance that a) helps people get what they need to live and b) that's available to poor recipients even if they don't work. Despite some spotty "work requirements" decreed over the years, food stamps remain largely available to poor workers and shirkers alike.
It doesn't matter, then, that food stamps aren't cash -- they readily substitute for cash and can be traded for cash. It doesn't matter that, as the Times notes, many food stamp recipients actualy do some work -- many recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (the successor program to the hated Aid to Families with Dependent Children) work also. Indeed, the Times could just as easily have claimed that TANF itself is "not welfare, not even charity, but a financial assistance program that helps the poor buy food and housing." (Isn't housing and clothing as important as food?) But if TANF isn't welfare, what is? Like TANF and AFDC, the food stamp program is stigmatized, and rightly so, not because nobody on food stamps works, but because you don't have to work to get the aid ...
It's a measure of the Times' distance from the citizenry that they would think the average American might conceivably be bullied into agreeing that "food stamps are not welfare." ...(If you adopt a broader definition of "welfare" occassionally used by both liberals and conservatives -- in which any means-tested program qualifies -- food stamps are still welfare.)
The NYT didn't need to try this semantic bluff to make its point. There's a plausible argument that a continuation of food stamps was part of the welfare reform deal of 1996, and that cities like New York should make sure that people are aware of their rights. On the other hand, if poor New Yorkers -- including many full-time workers who qualify for a few food stamp dollars because they have large families -- don't want to sign up for the program because of the (justified) "welfare" stigma, that's their right too. It should also permissable for the New York welfare authorities to remind potential recipients of the stigma. Which means the Times' proposed measure of success for the Bloomberg administration -- the more people on food stamps the better -- can't be the right one. ... P.S.: A food stamp program restricted to workers would be another story -- and another program. ... [Thanks to kf reader J.W.] ...1:31 A.M
Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Very useful Virginia Postrel column on the various half-way tax reforms now under consideration. ... One question, concerning her invocation of the "permanent income hypothesis," which holds (in Postrel's words) that a "temporary [tax] cut does little to encourage hiring or spending." This presumably means that a traditional Keynesian countercyclical tax cut is impossible -- if taxes are just going to be raised when the economy recovers, then a tax cut now will have no Keynesian demand-boosting effect. (You could enact "permanent" cuts in a recession and "permanent" hikes during a recovery, but unless consumers and businesses are idiots they will realize these "permanent" changes aren't going to be permanent at all.)
a) If temporary tax cuts don't work, does that mean those seeking to boost demand are well advised to turn away from tax cuts to direct, temporary spending increases, a budget-boosting outcome Postrel probably does not desire?
b) Or are one-shot spending increases ineffective demand-boosters also? In that case there would seem to be only two strategies available:
1) Permanent tax cuts followed by tax cuts followed by more tax cuts, in a repeated ratchet like process. This seems like the conservative's nirvana, except that eventually it either shrinks the tax base to zero or, if there is a bedrock minimum of tax revenue necessary, ends in a situation where no more tax cuts can be made (and thus no more tax stimulus can be provided); or
2) Permanent spending increases followed by more permanent spending increases -- the liberal nirvana. Except that this process, too, would seem to eventually approach an unsatisfactory end-state, in which government-directed spending accounts for most or all of GDP.
Combine strategies 1 and 2 and you get an economic game plan that would permanently increase spending and cut taxes during every recession, with no attempt to undo them in between. That means a budget deficit that permanently grows and grows -- a situation that seems all too familiar. (Surely even the current anti-Rubinomics crowd agrees that at some point increasingly huge permanent budget deficits hurt economic growth.)
c) Since none of these outcomes is very satisfactory, shouldn't we resist the "permanent income hypothesis"? So what if merely temporary tax and spending changes only have a small effect -- not "as much as their boosters had hoped." It's still an effect, no? ... 10:37 P.M.
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Dept. of Unacknowledged Bias: Hmmm. Why doesn't Andrew Sullivan name the names of the N.Y.Times reporters who wrote the story that won his 2002 "Raines Award" for "blatant but unacknowledged media bias"? That's not like Sullivan, is it? In fact, Sullivan enthusiastically names almost all the other "winners." Why not name Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder, who deservedly won the "Raines" by ignoring the news in the NYT's own preelection poll, which showed the Republicans making clear last-minute gains in what had previously been a near-tied election? I can think of two reasons. a) Nagourney is a friend of Andrew's, and Andrew is pulling his punches; or b) Nagourney (or someone) has made it clear to Andrew that the embarrassing downplaying of the pro-GOP poll result was ordered by his editors, perhaps even by Howell Raines himself -- and therefore Andrew thinks it's unfair to blame Nagourney.
Both theories, but especially the latter, are supported by Sullivan's recent gratuitous praise for Nagourney's coverage of Gore's no-go decision. Sullivan wrote (on 12/16):
By the way, Adam Nagourney of the Times completely owned this scoop. When left alone by Raines, he always produces great stuff. [Emphasis added.]
Does this mean Raines himself screwed up the NYT's election coverage by in effect ordering his reporters to ignore the big potential pro-GOP scoop? (There's your lede!) ... Is Nagourney defending himself to his friends by dishing and dissing Raines, his boss? Is some other insider running around blaming the NYT's editor? (Lucky Raines isn't the vindictive sort!) ... Does reading Andrew's blog have to be like reading Pravda? ... 1:38 A.M.
Monday, December 30, 2002
No VNS, No Iowa? If the big media organizations kill the hapless, secretive Voter News Service, what does that mean for the Iowa caucuses, which have, at times in the past, been virtually creatures of the VNS (and its predecessor organization, the News Election Service)? ... Specifically, in 1988 the media vote-counting consortium tried to transform the caucuses into a de facto primary by counting and reporting a preliminary, unofficial caucus vote count. (Sordid details here and here.) If in 2004 there is no VNS, the networks might have to rely on the state Democratic party's complicated, mult-tiered official counting system -- which could be time-consuming and confusing if, as expected, there are a half-dozen Democratic contenders. The nets and newspapers probably couldn't expect to report any sort of clear-cut result before the country went to sleep on caucus night. ... Would the nets pay as much attention to Iowa in that case? ... If they don't pay attention, of course, Iowa will cease to be such a big deal -- bad news for the Savery Hotel but good news for those (like me) who decry the inordinate influence of the pleasant, peacenicky, NEA-dominated liberal Democrats of Iowa in the party's nominating process. ... Alas, it looks as if the VNS will be replaced by another organization (or several organizations) even if it is dissolved. ...1:06 A.M.
Win Diesel -- A story you probably won't see hyped in the NYT:
"His record on the environment is as appalling as you would expect" -- evolutionist Richard Dawkins, denouncing George W. Bush in The Independent.
Those like Dawkins, who buy into this green activists' cartoonish direct-mail meme regarding Bush's environment policies will be confused by today's WaPo story on the impending new regulations for off-road diesel emissions. Eric Pianin concludes:
Environmentalists and public health groups have criticized President Bush for repeatedly siding with industry in disputes over clean air standards ... Yet the administration has consistently and aggressively advocated tougher diesel emission standards .... It has also rejected previous pleas of industry and lawmakers for more lenient regulations.
As New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook has often noted, the diesel rules are one of the few big environmental calls Bush has to make. Earlier Bush diesel regs -- cracking down on emissions of on-road diesel trucks and buses -- were actually written on President Clinton's watch, and could be dismissed (by the New York Times and others so inclined) as simply Bush "upholding Clinton-era rules." But these off-road regulations (covering tractors, bulldozers, and the like) appear to be a Bush-era project. ... [Dawkins link via Sullivan ] 12 :01 A.M.
Friday, December 27, 2002
Growth Will Come:
Then the situation stabilized, more or less. Repeated interest rate cuts encouraged families to buy new houses and refinance their mortgages, putting cash in their pockets; yes, the tax cut also made a marginal contribution.
On the other hand, a small minority of pessimists — sometimes including me, depending on what I had for breakfast — have been insistently predicting a collapse in consumer spending, which also hasn't happened. [Emphasis added]
Alarming signs of humility from Paul Krugman in a solid column today. ... Could the old subtle and sensible Krugman have escaped from the Princeton storage closet where he's been bound and gagged for all these months? It's a new year -- anything's possible! ... P.S.: We'll settle for false humility!... 7:22 P.M.
Aggression is in the Details: From today's Neil Lewis NYT piece on Supreme Court vacancies:
When Mr. Rehnquist told the television interviewer Charlie Rose last year that "traditionally, Republican appointees have tended to retire during Republican administrations," he meant that it would be far easier for a justice to leave when his or her successor would bring a similar ideology. That reasoning becomes even stronger with an aggressive Republican Senate taking over in January. [Emphasis added]
Why is that word "aggressive" there? Is this an especially aggressive single-vote GOP Senate majority? Newt Gingrich's 1994 Republican House -- that was aggressive (though even Gingrich himself isn't that aggressive any more). Throwing out Supplemental Security Income and block-granting food stamps was aggressive. Ending the welfare entitlement was aggressive. Trying to balancing the budget by cutting Medicare -- aggressive! Renominating Charles Pickering (or, as is possible, not renominating Charles Pickering) -- not aggressive! ... Abandoning accelerated tax cuts for the rich, as reported in today's WSJ, may be a sensible move, but it's certainly not aggressive. ... (Privatizing Social Security would be aggressive, but it won't happen.) .... You, the reader make the call: Is the word "aggressive" in Lewis' piece because
a) it's a hype word, artificially building up the drama and the stakes of the impending Supreme Court battle;
b) liberal Times reporters think all Republicans are "aggressive" -- it's the nicest thing they can say about them!
c) it's a scare word. Lewis is trying to frighten the Times ' largely-liberal readership about Bush's possible picks. Note: Lewis uses the word "conservative" eight times in the piece, and four of those times it's directly preceded by an adjective that arguably acts as a trigger for the release of liberal fear hormones: "sharp conservative," "boldest conservative," "aggressively conservative," and "reliable conservative;"
d) Lewis just loves "aggressive" -- he uses it three times in 1470 words; or
e) all of the above. ... 6:33 P.M.
Thursday, December 26, 2002
But Scrum, where's Shrum? Senator John Edwards will announce his presidential candidacy on January 4, according to the mysterious (to you, not me!) Scrum. ... 7:04 P.M.
Meter Goes Off: Do you really think the Empire State Building "has weathered the year after the [9/11] attacks quite nicely, thank you, despite the miserable economy and lingering terrorism fears," as the New York Times claims? I'm suspicious. According to John Holusha's boosterishpiece,
"Broadcasters have snapped up offices on the highest floors. Tourists are crowding the observation deck. ... according to the building's manager, about 90 percent of the commercial space is occupied ..."
Some tenants are moving out, but "others are moving in, a normal state of affairs," Holusha writes. Indeed, "57 new leases totaling 91,000 square feet have been signed and another 35 leases representing 61,000 square feet have been renewed. " But Holusha doesn't give one bit of data that most businessmen -- and NYT readers -- might want to know about before they're convinced that everything's sunny at 34th and Fifth: Price. Are those brave new tenants paying the same rent as the tenants who are leaving? It's easy to lease out space if you lower the rent enough. Hello, editor! ... You'd almost think the Times owns a big chunk of commercial property in the midtown area! ...P.S.: I'm also still skeptical that The New Yorker has suddenly become profitable to the tune of $1.2 million, even if Keith Kelly repeats it. The magazine's whole, elaborately orchestrated "we're profitable" campaign reeks of Salon-style (or kausfiles-style) PR hype. Could Tina Brown really have been wasting that much money? Given the ability of accountants to move around expenses within the Conde Nast empire, I think we should all demand that reporters be allowed to look at Conde Nast's books before we join in the applause. ...They don't really expect us to take Steve Florio's word for it, do they? ... Update: Here's a good, skeptical AdAge.com piece, with some useful detail. The magazine reportedly lost $9 million last year, and $10 million in 2000 "despite a boom that year that lifted many magazines to record levels." 11:47 P.M.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Voice of Sanity Dept.:
"The president set the tone in Philadelphia when he condemned Lott. How do we match that?"
-- Donna Brazile, Democratic get-out-the-vote whiz, arguing against Dems who would try to somehow immediately capitalize on the Lott scandal, NYT, 12/24
Making a hair-trigger charge of racism over Bill Frist's "I don't want to get stuck" Sharp Pencil remark always seemed like something Harold Ford Sr., as opposed to his New Democrat son, Harold Ford Jr., would do. And sure enough, according to the OpinionJournal's "Best of the Web,"the New York Times' David Firestone got it wrong-- it was Sr., not Jr., who "demanded that Mr. Frist apologize to African-Americans" (Firestone's words). Inspires confidence in Firestone's deep understanding of Tennessee politics, doesn't it? ... 11:58 A.M.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Howell Don't Like It: Jon Pareles' NYTobit of The Clash's Joe Strummer is predictably PC -- "tied punk's individual rage to mass rebellion .... railed against apathy, powerlessness, police brutality, American cultural domination ... drew on reggae as [a] badge of interracial solidarity ..." blah, blah blah. Has Pareles ever actually listened to the lyrics to "Safe European Home"? Interracial solidarity with Jamaicans is not the theme. ... Surely Pareles knows this, but he writes as if he doesn't, and diminishes The Clash in the process. Unlike the Times, they had a f-----g sense of humor. ... (Update: David Segal's WaPo obit is much looser and better, as is Desson Howe's reminiscence.)
Pareles also misses the most important, and highly relevant, geopolitical incident in which The Clash figures: The playing of the band's "Rock the Casbah" as the first song on U.S. Armed Forces radio in Saudi Arabia during the buildup to 1991's Operation Desert Storm -- this despite a lot of talk about the need not to offend delicate Saudi sensibilities. At the time, I remember thinking that the choice of this song --which seems to mock Wahabi repression and features the somewhat provocative line, "Drop your bombs between the minarets/Down the Casbah way" -- represented much of what's good about Americans. It was a big "F--- Y--" to Saudi censors, as in "You want us to defend your country, well you can't tell us what music to listen to, buddy!" Now I'm not so sure if gratuitously irritating strict Islamic moralists -- as if there really was no room for a culture without Britney Spears in a free, democratic world -- was such a brilliant idea. ... 11:38 P.M.
Tennessee Synecdoche II: Alert kf reader J.F. (not Jim Fallows!) notes another connection between ex-DC mayor Marion Barry and Tennessee: Barry's from there! He grew up in Tennessee, went to high school in Tennessee, went to college in Tennessee and dropped out of a Tennessee grad school. Local boy makes bad! That's another reason why Bill Frist might have used Barry as the personification of D.C. government waste in the 1994 Tennessee Senate race -- as if Barry wasn't already the obvious example to everyone in the nation except Josh Marshall! ... 10:48 A.M.
Only two Mary Matalin exit-spin articles in the NYT today? (Here and here.) If the Times doesn't reward its sources (and spouses of sources) better than that, it could find itself in trouble! ... At least spread the puffers out over a couple of days for maximum impact!... P.S.: I like Matalin. Many people I respect like Matalin. It's not her fault that the current President Bush (as opposed to the previous one) doesn't share this widespread view. But maybe he's a wee bit allergic to self-promotion. ... 8:00 P.M.
It's not just Bill Frist!Seinfeld's George Costanza had a fear of sharpened pencils as well. ...[Thanks to alert kf reader E.H.] 7:22 P.M.
Josh Marshall has posted a response on the Frist/"Marion Barry" controversy. It's weak! Marshall says he knew that Frist's Tennessee opponent, James Sasser, chaired the Senate subcommittee in charge of D.C. finances (the District having special federal status). a) Don't you think Marshall could have mentioned that when asking "what on earth [D.C. mayor Marion Barry] had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee"? b) So what if Barry left office in the middle of Sasser's DC-supervising role? It's fair to bust Sasser for the period when Barry was mayor. (The only clip I could find during Barry's tenure showcased Sasser trying to get more federal anti-drug money poured into the city, which would fit in with Frist's point, no?) Plus the bloated D.C. bureaucracy that Sasser helped fund was still Barry's bureacracy even after he left office. (What Frist said, remember, was that D.C. was "home of" Barry.) Plus Barry was back on the City Council two years later, and about to be re-elected Mayor as Frist was speaking. ... I see Marshall's Throwing Things and raise him a MinuteMan!..
The truth is that Barry was a perfectly good synecdoche for Democratic willingness to tolerate failed, bloated, union-hamstrung city governments for fear of offending African-American pols. Marshall obviously knows this. But if that's right, the argument against Frist has to be that he's not allowed to use a perfectly good synecdoche -- Willie Horton being a parallel example -- simply because it will also pander to racial fears. I'm not sure what I think of that argument (as Marshall notes, it would rule out a whole lot of legitimate issues and symbols, and I think it tends to reward overestimating the race prejudice of voters). But whatever you think of it, it's not the simple argument Marshall purports to make -- that Barrry had "nothing" to do with Sasser. ... 1:59 P.M.
The Fristing of Dr. Bill, #2: Editors Do It With Sharp Pencils! David Firestone's Saturday NYT Fristing pushes another allegation that in 1994 the incoming Senate Majority Leader made "comments that were seen as racially insensitive."
Mr. Frist, going to a largely black march against crime, had asked a worker to obtain imprinted pencils to distribute, requesting unsharpened pencils.
"I don't want to get stuck," he told the aide.
"most everyone in the newsroom at The Tennessean, where I worked at the time, knew it and was embarrassed by the story."
Hobbs' insider perspective carries some weight. (Hobbs' wife worked on that Frist campaign, so he's not exactly unbiased, as he admits -- but he notes he didn't know her at the time of the Sharp Pencils Incident. They met six years later.) I would only add that even if the worst interpretation is given to Frist's words -- namely that he was seriously worried that he, Frist, might get stabbed by one of the people to whom he'd given the pencils -- it amounts to a Kinsley Gaffe, an accidental telling of the truth. Was it racist to worry about crime in the neighborhood that Frist was going to? If if wasn't rational to worry about crime in that neighborhood, why were they holding a "march against crime" there? As Tina Mercer, daughter of the march organizer, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal (in the course of somehow condemning Frist):
''We hit the tough neighborhoods because that's where the trouble is."
If that was "where the trouble is," then it doesn't seem crazy or racist (as opposed to, maybe, neurotic) to worry about getting assaulted. P.S.: It's of course not clear that Frist was worried about getting stabbed, as opposed to accidentally pricking himself while handing out the pencils. (Doctors are likely to be very conscious of the threat of accidental prickings, since they have to worry about getting stuck with infected needles. Surgeons such as Frist -- several kf readers have noted -- tend to be especially concerned about accidentally cutting their hands.) Rev. James Thomas of the Jefferson Street Baptist Church in Nashville, told the Commercial Appeal at the time: ''I couldn't say it was absolutely a racial statement, the one that he made. He could have just been saying he didn't want to get stuck." ... [I don't want to see the Nexis bill for these items--ed. Without Nexis I am nothing.] 12:03 A.M.
Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman -- Always annoying, occasionally right. Joe Conason -- Bush-bashing, free most days. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.