The Vanity Post

Blog Spirit is a great service. The interface is very easy to use, the pages look professional, and the community features are great. Its French origin delights the europhile in me, which has been dormant these last few years. If you don’t mind the aggregated results, the traffic page is pretty much. When tech support gets around to it, they are quite helpful. But some things really grate on you

  1. Unless I monkey with timestamps, posts show up seven hours after I publish. But they are linked to automatically on the community pages.
  2. The template system is nice, but it keeps resetting. Yesterday I wondered why my humble traffic fell like a stone. Answer? The sitemeter tool was reset from the right hand column.

Again, I love BlogSpirit. The “community” features aren’t just a gimmick, but increase readership and promote cross-site dialog. But it can be annoying.

In other vanity news

  1. I love my job. Teaching (community) college is a blast.
  2. To my surprise and delight, I love figure skating. It’s a great spectator sport.
  3. I hate this awful evil cold I have. It saps any energy I have and it prevents me from sleeping.
  4. The Good Earth may be the happiest and saddest book I have ever read. Imagine taking Aztec and combining it with A Painted House. I can’t believe I waited almost a year from when I bought it to begin reading it. The first page begins weakly, but once you get to number two you hate to put it down.
  5. When down with the cold and reading The Good Earth, you can’t go wrong with Coca-Cola and 1 Mile North.

Polar Warming Proven

Astronomers Discover ‘Hot Spot’ on Saturn,” Associated Press, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,146391,00.html, 4 February 2005.

Scientists have announced discovery incontrovertible proof that the South Pole is warming at a rapid pace.

Will this shut down the Gulf Stream?

“The infrared images … suggest a warm polar vortex — a large-scale weather pattern …that occurs in the upper atmosphere.”

Given the rapid rise of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, are we to blame?

Probably not.

The team of scientists say the images are the sharpest thermal views of Saturn ever taken from the ground. Their work will be a published in Friday’s editions of the journal Science.

This warm polar cap is believed to contain the highest temperatures on Saturn; the scientists did not give a temperature estimate

Hysterical Harvard

Harvard aims to spur advancement of women,” by Marcella Bombardieri, Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2005/02/04/harvard_aims_to_spur_advancement_of_women/, 4 February 2005 (from The Corner).

You are Harvard Univeristy. Your successfully responded to scientific inquiry from your president by making him apologize. What is the next stage . But that’s not enough. You want to demonstrate that women can succeed in science through hard work and intelligence?

Affirmative action!

In response to the outcry that followed Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers’s remarks on women in the sciences, the university announced yesterday the creation of two task forces to develop concrete ways to better recruit women and support the careers of female scholars at Harvard, especially in science and engineering.

Harvard also announced plans to create a senior position in the central administration to focus on the recruitment and advancement of women on the faculty.

For example, many people had been urging the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to reinstitute the dean for affirmative action, a position that was abolished several years ago. The new senior position for gender diversity seems to be a similar job, though at the higher university level rather than at the level of FAS.

Those who lobbied for that position made “persuasive arguments,” Summers said yesterday. He also said that the new initiative “is something that perhaps we could have done some time ago — addressing these problems on a university-wide level rather than leaving them to the decentralized schools. . . . I think this is an overdue step in taking a university-wide view of these questions.”

What a great school.

Cyberwar Within the Context of Everything Else

Gaming War Within the Context of Everything Else,” Fire and Movement, Issue 134, by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Horse and Musket, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/published/GamingWar.htm, 2004.

Of content flows and rodeos,” by Stuart Berman, My Kids’ Dad, http://bermans.blogs.com/opinion/2005/01/of_content_flow.html, 4 February 2005.

Stuart Berman is an insightful thinker, and I recently added his blog to my reading list. But this suggestion is dangerously wrong.

2) The analogous layer – should the Internet remain ‘wide open’ or should we adopt Barnett’s model?

Barnett emphasizes the role of technologies in fostering the war of connectivity although he concentrates on the geophysical context (the Internet has multiplied the effects of globalization but those effects tend to be geographic thus the Gap and Core are mostly bounded by national boundaries with special position given to those countries on the border – ‘seam states’). This makes sense as long as the war is fought along physical lines, but some (including myself) are concerned about the impact of cyberwar – that is what happens when the connectivity war starts ‘backflushing’ upstream? Examples above are one aspect of this. In the cyberworld (electronic communications) there is very little relationship between the physical (location and infrastructure) and the virtual (the content and flow) so the seams or the frontlines are almost imperceptible. (A Korean may have her Hotmail account with all of it’s data reside in Seattle and is handled the same way as if it belonged to a man in Iowa.) Clearly China has tried to alter this architecture – the question is should the architecture take into account analogous geophysical global situations or even try to model the architecture along the thinking Barnett offers (in the virtual world regardless of your physical location are you a Core player, a Gap player or a Seam player -> your behavior determines your status not any other factor[nationality, religion, skin tone, gender])? The first option (China) involves firewalling and content control at the physical borders, the second option requires development of identity architectures and virtual firewalling (ala Jericho Forum).

If I am reading this right, the suggestion is dangerously wrong. We have to fight war in the context of everything else. That means cyberwar within the context of too. Dr. Barnett has written

Instead of just gaming war within the context of war, you’d have to game war within the context of everything else—Risk meets Monopoly meets Life meets . . ..

Let me give you an even better example. The U.S. Census Bureau says two-thirds of America’s population growth between now and 2050 will come from Latinos immigrating here from Central and South America. Without that flow of bodies, our Potential Support Ratio (PSR) of workers-to-retirees will plummet dangerously. That’s the future economic strength of this country in a nutshell. Guess what happens in response to 9/11? We tighten our borders and already we see a diversion of that flow to Europe. You want to know who made that call? Bin Laden did. He’s playing a game of Risk we don’t understand, because we lack the imagination to do so—because we only understand war within the context of war and not within the context of everything else.

I think Mr. Berman and I agree with Dr. Barnett that disconnectedness defines danger. And we agree that the focus of the Global War on Terror should be spreading connectivity. But firewalling the Core will do not do this. An Internet where Gap and Seam browsers have their face against the electronic glass is not an internet worth creating.

Cybersecurity is important, and some precautions must be taken. But making the Internet geographically-dependent as Berman and Beijing suggest is not in Barnett’s vision. Berman’s “identity architectures and virtual firewalls” would shut the door on those whom globalization would help the most and reinforce ghettosim. The Great Virtual Firewall of the Core and would be be a terrible step backward.

CSR and Sustainability

The Union of Concerned Executives,” The Economist, http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_id=3555194, 20 January 2005.

Profit and the public good,” The Economist, http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_id=3555259, 20 January 2005.

As promised by the previous post on irresponsible CSR, a discussion on CSR’s harm to the environment.

This kind of argument is invoked to make sense of “sustainable development” and the claims pressed on business by that idea. Prices are wrong, the argument goes, so markets are failing. Pollution, including the accumulation of greenhouse gases, is not priced into the market, so there is too much of it. Impending shortages of natural resources are not priced into the market, so those resources are consumed too rapidly. The value of wilderness, either for its beauty or for its stocks of endangered species, is not priced into the market, so too much of it gets cemented over.

Whether the pattern of consumption based on these false prices is sustainable is really beside the point. Some patterns of consumption could be indefinitely sustained but still be wrong, causing mounting damage as far ahead as one can see. Others might indeed be unsustainable, meaning bound to be halted at some point, yet not be wrong, as when the approaching exhaustion of a raw material leads to the invention of a substitute. “Sustainability” has a nice ring to it, but it is not the issue. The question is whether false prices are causing big economic mistakes—and, if so, what might be done about that.

Many market prices do diverge from the corresponding “shadow prices” that would direct resources to their socially best uses. In many cases, the divergence is big enough to warrant government action—a point which all governments have taken on board, sometimes to a fault. All industrial-country governments intervene in their economies. In principle, much of this intervention aims to mitigate the misallocation of resources caused by externalities and other kinds of market failure. But it is important to keep a sense of proportion about the supposed unreliability of market signals.

So far as environmental externalities are concerned, most leading advocates of CSR seem to be in the grip of a grossly exaggerated environmental pessimism. The claim that economic growth is necessarily bad for the environment is an article of faith in the CSR movement. But this idea is simply wrong.

Natural resources are not running out, if you measure effective supply in relation to demand. The reason is that scarcity raises prices, which spurs innovation: new sources are found, the efficiency of extraction goes up, existing supplies are used more economically, and substitutes are invented. In 1970, global reserves of copper were estimated at 280m tonnes; during the next 30 years about 270m tonnes were consumed. Where did estimated reserves of copper stand at the turn of the century? Not at 10m tonnes, but at 340m. Available supplies have surged, and, it so happens, demand per unit of economic activity has been falling: copper is being replaced in many of its main industrial applications by other materials (notably, fibre-optic cable instead of copper wire for telecommunications).

Copper, therefore, is unlikely ever to run out—and if it did, in some very distant future, it would be unlikely by then to matter. The same is true for other key minerals. Reserves of bauxite in 1970 were 5.3 billion tonnes; the amount consumed between 1970 and 2000 was around 3 billion tonnes; reserves by the end of the century stood at 25 billion tonnes. Or take energy. Oil reserves in 1970: 580 billion barrels. Oil consumed between 1970 and the turn of the century: 690 billion barrels. Oil reserves in 2000: 1,050 billion barrels. And so on.

Our oil surplus is old hat. But CSR’s twisted ecodestruction is news.

Still judging acts by their effects, as opposed to motives and underlying rationale, the most harmful kinds of CSR, however, are the “pernicious” and “delusional” sorts—that is, policies and practices that actually reduce social welfare. How can that happen? All too easily.

Most CSR, in fact, is probably delusional, meaning that it reduces both profits and social welfare, even if the cost under both headings is usually small. Almost all CSR has at least some cost, after all, even if it is no more than a modest increase in the firm’s bureaucratic overhead. That cost subtracts from social welfare in its own right. So the kind of CSR that merely goes through the motions, delivering no new resources to worthy causes, giving the firm’s workers or customers no good reason to think more highly of it (perhaps the opposite), involves a net loss of welfare.

Or consider the current enthusiasm for recycling. No doubt there are cases where it makes good business sense to recycle. These fall under the “good management” heading: they increase profits and (mainly for that reason) social welfare as well. But the point is that recycling is not free. Effort and other resources must be expended on it. Waste must be collected, transported and processed before it can re-enter the productive process. The costs can be substantial. If those private costs exceed the private savings, profits will suffer—and so, most likely, will social welfare.

The trouble is, the notion that the market prices of commodities fail to reflect their scarcity is wrong. In commodity markets, prices reflect scarcity just fine. The long-term global trend of falling commodity prices, despite growth in the world economy, is not due to the failure of markets to reflect diminishing supplies and impending shortages. Commodity markets are for the most part efficient and forward-looking. Commodity prices, measured over recent decades, have followed a downward trend because innovation has brought about ever-rising productivity in the use of those resources. In other words, supply has outstripped demand. Where, unusually, it has not, prices have indeed gone up—providing the signal that may make recycling in those cases commercially sensible.

Corporate Social Irresponsibility

Profit and the public good,” The Economist, http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_id=3555259, 20 January 2005.

The Economist has an “survey” (epic takedown ) of the “Corporate Social Responsibility” movement. The writing is crisp and far-ranging, focusing both on how CSR is bad generally and also how it is bad for the environment.

CSR is unneeded, because profit measures a company’s true social responsibility…

If self-interest, guided as though by an invisible hand, inadvertently serves the public good, then it is easy to see why society can prosper even if people are not always driven by benevolence. It is because Smith was right about self-interest and the public interest that communism failed and capitalism worked.

Smith was a genius because this harmony of private interest and public interest is not at all obvious—and yet, at the same time, once it is pointed out, the idea is instantly simple and plausible. This is especially so if you think not about self-interested individuals but about profit-seeking companies. The value that people attach to the goods and services they buy from companies is shown by what they are willing to pay for them. The costs of producing those goods and services are a measure of what society has to surrender to consume those things. If what people pay exceeds the cost, society has gained—and the company has turned a profit. The bigger the gain for society, the bigger the profit. So profits are a guide (by no means a perfect one, but a guide nonetheless) to the value that companies create for society.

Now, there are problems with profit-as-CSR. Both these problems are made worse with CSR

One main requirement is that firms are in competition with each other. The profits that a monopoly can extract from the economy are a measure of market power, not social gain. And monopoly profits may not serve as an effective signal for new investment if economic barriers of one kind or another hamper competition by keeping new entrants off the monopolist’s turf.

And CSR often helps them in this. Although it is true that many business leaders mean what they say about good corporate citizenship, and speak up for CSR in good faith, CSR is nonetheless far more often invoked as a rationale for anti-competitive practices than as a reason to bolster competition. Incumbent firms or professions seem to find it easier to comply with burdensome regulations if they know that those rules are deterring new entrants. That is why, often in the name of CSR, incumbent businesses are so given to calling for rules and standards to be harmonised and extended, both at home and abroad.

For the good of the public, you understand, barristers are opposed to reforms that would allow solicitors to appear more often as advocates in English courts (their training just isn’t up to it). For the safety of the consumer, American pharmaceutical companies insist, extraordinary precautions must be taken before drugs can be imported from Canada (heaven knows what the Canadians, a devil-may-care sort of people, put into those pills). For the good of the world’s poor, industrial-country manufacturers believe, goods should not be imported from countries where employees have to work long hours for low pay and without statutory vacations (that is unfair trade).

CSR is a form of health mullahism. It is more concerned with power than the general welfare. It often overlaps with the more pernicious bits of the environmental movement… but that’s a post for another time.

A New American Tory Party

A Suicidal Selection: With Dean as party chairman, the Democrats wouldn’t need enemies,” by Jonath Chait, Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-chait4feb04,0,4714338.column?coll=la-news-comment-opinions, 4 February 2005.

Hewitt versus Beinart,” by “Steve in Sacto,” MyDD, http://www.mydd.com/story/2005/2/3/142723/3608, 4 February 2005.

The Democratic Party decides to commit suicide. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a confederation of regional parties. Unless you want to govern. Torification continues:

The article sums up Dean’s failures

The conventional rap against Dean as DNC chairman is essentially the same as the conventional rap against him as presidential candidate a year ago. Namely, he reinforces all the party’s weaknesses. Democrats need to appeal to culturally traditional voters in the Midwest and border states who worry about the party’s commitment to national security. Dean, with his intense secularism, arrogant style, throngs of high-profile counterculture supporters and association with the peace movement, is the precise opposite of the image Democrats want to send out.

And the coup that is sweeping him into office

So, how did Dean manage to trounce all comers for this position? Dean’s supporters see his triumph as the victory of the masses over a tiny Democratic elite desperately trying to cling to power. As one left-liberal blogger gloated: “The fact that Howard Dean will most likely be heading up the Democratic Party is our victory. It is the voice of the grass roots lifted up into the halls of power once owned by the ‘aristocracy of consultants.’ ” That actually has it backward. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that only 27% of Democrats approve of Dean.

In the latest issue of the New Republic, Ryan Lizza described how Dean had prevailed in a process of third-rate intrigue. The choosing of the DNC chairman has been dominated by state parties, whose concerns revolve around expanding perks, including a demand for a $200,000 handout for each state party from the national party. Nobody seemed to pay much attention to the good of the party as a whole. Meanwhile, Dean touched those leaders’ ideological erogenous zones, promising to “feed our core constituencies” and not be “Republican-lite.”

As the last election showed, the core constituencies are plenty well fed. There just aren’t enough of them to win the White House.

Relatedly, MyDD unloads on the editor of “Bush-liteThe New Republic.

I was going to post yet another Bienart takedown/outrage, him cavorting with the extended Republican Noise Machine, blah, blah… But instead I’m posting this just for the sheer hilarity of it as written. You just can’t make up stuff like this…

America needs two sane parties. Not a GOP behemoth and an American Tory Party.