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Saturday, July 13, 2002

For fun: Patrick Ruffini has a map and guide to Bloggerville
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Hoder (Hossein Derakhshan) has sent some links to 3 interesting articles on Iran by Thomas L. Friedman: here, here, and this quote is from the one here:

...This Third Generation of Iranians is quite different from its counterpart in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country getting younger, poorer, more Islamic and more anti-American - as young Saudis react against what they consider a corrupt, irreligious, pro-American regime. Iran is a country getting younger, poorer, less Islamic and less anti-American - as young Iranians react against an anti-American theocracy, isolating them from the world.

When Iran got the telegraph in the early 1900s it helped trigger the first constitutional revolution against the despotic Qajar regime. When telephones and tape cassettes spread around Iran in the 1970s, they became tools through which Ayatollah Khomeini spread his revolution against the Shah. Today the Internet and satellite television have come to Iran, bringing with them new appetites and aspirations.

This Third Generation hoped President Mohammed Khatami's reformist candidacy would satisfy those aspirations, but he proved to be a bust, unwilling to confront the conservatives. No matter. The Third Generation will eventually find a new political horse to ride and, when it does, Iran will change - with or without the ayatollahs' blessings...

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Suman Palit has some interesting things to say about Iran and how changes there could affect us:

...If you are wondering whether I'm just some kind of sentimental sap for suggesting such solidarity, nothing could be further from the truth. I am nothing, if not a hard-nosed little Machiavelli wannabe...

...Can Iranians, in their fight with theocracy, shake Islam out of it's medieval time-warp? I certainly hope so. The people of Iran are all at once their own greatest hope, as well as our best bet to win this war by making it go away...

Friday, July 12, 2002

P. Krugman
#26: Innuendos, distortions, guilt by association ... so what's new?

So now it is a crisis in American capitalism! In "The Insider Game" (07/12/02) Paul Krugman makes it clear that he and the Democrats are going to make recent business scandals their premier fall campaign issue. For a closet socialist with a mean streak, this must be heaven on earth. Innuendos, distortions, guilt by association and the rest of his bag of tricks are all in play now.

But it is easy to see why it will not work. Stripped of the cascading invective, all Krugman has to propose policy wise are 1) the expensing of stock options and 2) disallowing auditors from consulting to the same clients. That's it! The rest of the column, while filled with colorful phrases such as "Chainsaw Al", "perfectly timed stock sale", "serial book-cooker" and "highly incestuous web of public policy and private deals", is totally undirected. He said the same things in his previous two columns and we have little to add to our critiques.

And how could it be otherwise? Most of the scandalous things that happened were the products of bubble-mania, not a lack of laws. Corner cutting can be dealt with best by the markets (indeed it already has been, and rather severely in some cases) and fraud is already against the law. So that leaves demagoguery-a Krugman specialty.

It will be interesting to see where he goes from here. Even for an obsessive-compulsive, three consecutive columns on the same subject are pretty heavy. Will he try for four?

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This is a draft letter. The idea is for gazillions of webloggers to post it one day soon. There is a revolution happening right now, and the free world is doing almost nothing!

Please feel free to comment, or write a better version. NZ Bear has a comments feature, or you can e-mail me...


To show our support for the Iranian people, we each have agreed to display this letter, in English and in Farsi, on our pages from sunrise to sunset today, Tehran time.

We are not politicians, nor are we generals. We hold no power to dispatch diplomats to negotiate; we can send no troops to defend those who choose to risk their lives in the cause of freedom.

What power we have is in our words, and in our thoughts. And it is that strength which we offer to the people of Iran on this day.

Across the diverse and often contentious world of weblogs, each of us has chosen to put aside our differences and come together today to declare our unanimity on the following simple principles:

- That the people of Iran are allies of free men and women everywhere in the world, and deserve to live under a government of their own choosing, which respects their own personal liberties

- That the current Iranian regime has failed to create a free and prosperous society, and attempts to mask its own failures by repression and tyranny

We do not presume to know what is best for the people of Iran; but we are firm in our conviction that the policies of the current government stand in the way of the Iranians ability to make those choices for themselves.

And so we urge our own governments to turn their attention to Iran. The leaders and diplomats of the world's democracies must be clear in their opposition to the repressive actions of the current Iranian regime, but even more importantly, must be clear in their support for the aspirations of the Iranian people.

And to the people of Iran, we say: You are not alone. We see your demonstrations in the streets; we hear of your newspapers falling to censorship; and we watch with anticipation as you join the community of the Internet in greater and greater numbers. Our hopes are with you in your struggle for freedom. We cannot and will not presume to tell you the correct path to freedom; that is for you to choose. But we look forward to the day when we can welcome your nation into the community of free societies of the world, for we know with deepest certainty that such a day will come.

Thursday, July 11, 2002


Dave Trowbridge drew my attention to this article: The State Department Goes Mute, by Michael Ledeen.

The appalling thing is, that hundreds of thousands are demonstrating right now against tyranny in Iran; being beaten, shot, jailed ... and the State Department says: No comment. Most of us love freedom, tolerance, and representitive government. The State Dept seems to prefer a world of stable interlocking cartels.

This may be one of the pivotal moments of our time, and the voices of freedom are not being heard! I would guess that many Iranians were heartened by Bush's Axis of Evil speech, just as Reagan's Evil Empire statement resonated behind the Iron Curtain. (State Dept hated that one also. I bet they thought the fall of the Soviet Union was a tiresome nuisance) And now Iranians are probably beginning to be dismayed by our silence.

Maybe this is a situation where the Blogsphere could help. Something like a Blog-burst. Or perhaps something like a chain letter, rippling outwards. If we all raise a ruckus it might attract notice. Also, I've hard that there are many Iranian blogs; they've become a sort of Samizdata there. If anybody has links, we might exchange some messages of encouragement and support, or help them be heard.

Any suggestions?

*UPDATES: N.Z. Bear has been all over this issue. and he links to Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan.

Craig Schamp has been on it too. "But I think any outside involvement would be most effective if it were clandestine, making the fall not a U.S. overthrow of an Islamic government but an internal democratic and anti-theocratic revolt. That would make for a more stunning rebuke of the Islamists who have held Iran in high esteem for decades. " That makes sense. But our stupid State Department could speak of warm hopes for democracy and freedom without making us 'sponsors' of the revolution. They won't, but we can.

*Update: NZ Bear has come up with a nice idea -- he's drafted a sort of 'open letter' to the people of Iran for us bloggers, (hopefully lots of us) to all publish on the same day...I'll post more tomorrow...
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I've been waiting years (well, blog years) for Natalie to actually write something about sewing, and now she has. She mentions sewing rather defensively in her weblog description, as if she feared being scorned for such a soft womanish activity. But, as one who has (from the comfort of my reading chair), as the ship sails south towards the Brazils, issued yards of duck to the men to make their warm-weather gear, I think of sewing as something sailors and explorers do.

Also, I'm the one who sews on buttons and tacks up falling hems around our house. Not because I'm any good at it, but because I love fixing things. Every broken gadget fixed is a victory over entropy, and that gives me the psychic energy to fiddle with those annoying jobs. Charlene is skilled, in fact she has upholstered some of our chairs, but buttons -- no way. (And before you e-mail, yes, I knows about entropy, and that fixing the toaster does not actually decrease entropy within our system. When I perfect my anti-entropic machine, then you'll see something. Bread will fall butter-side up at least 78% of the time.)

But I will now modify my mental picture of Natalie to add the bunny ears. That will soften and humanize my current image of a ninja of the blog-forest, armed with polished sarcasm.

Monday, July 08, 2002

P. Krugman

Back in 1999, Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, gave a speech in which he pointed out that at the time he was speaking:
1) the strength of the world economy depended on the strength of the U.S. economy,
2) the strength of the U.S. economy depended on the strength of the stock market,
3) and the strength of the stock market depended on a dozen or so companies and NONE of them had ever made any money.

He was joking, of course; but it was one of those jokes with a point. The point most of those present had to acknowledge was the apparent fragile nature of the world economy at that time. And, sure enough, a few months later we entered what we now recognize as the blow-off phase of the new economy bubble.

After Volcker's speech if one had described a scenario in which a) the bubble would burst in early 2000, b) the NASDQ would fall by 2/3rds by the end of 2000, c) the economy would enter a recession and d) all of that would be followed by 9/11 and then asked the question: What will the economy be like in 2002? The answer by many, no doubt most, would have been severe recession or depression.

Yet, somehow this consensus forecast did not happen. The economy held together surprisingly well and, despite virulent skeptics, continues to do so. We all have our favorite theories as to why and how this happened and it is a subject that will be discussed for years. But for the moment, it provides a useful backdrop to the shrill, but ultimately futile, ravings of Paul Krugman and the Democrats about the recent business scandals. According to Krugman these outrageous business behaviors were condoned, even pioneered, by the members of the Bush White House and are destroying confidence in the stock market, threatening the economy and decimating the pensions of widows, orphans and, in general, of the downtrodden. In "Succeeding in Business" (07/07/02) Krugman tries once again to trace these corruptions in our evil capitalist system right up to Bush and Cheney themselves.

There at least two reasons why this will never fly. One is that Bushand, to a considerable extent, Cheney have bonded with the American people. Like it or not, Paul, they are trusted. Blatant partisan ranting by New York Times columnists are not going to change that. The other reason is related to our comments above. The business excesses and subsequent scandals associated with the tech-wreck of 2000 have not had much impact on the real economy. This is not say there were not heavy financial losses by some people and severe employment dislocations to others. And, of course, we had a mild recession. But it is hard to organize a political lynching (and that is what Krugman is trying desperately to do) without a very large and very angry group of victims. It appears to us that such a group does not exist.

Furthermore, anyone with a sense of history–and Krugman clearly has none–would realize that this has all happened before. We have had "new economies" in the past based on innovations in technology such as steam in the early 1800s, railroads in the late 1800s, electricity and automobiles in the 20th century. Booms, excesses and busts accompanied all of these waves of innovation. We survived them all and emerged all the stronger for it.

In railroads, for example, companies that eventually failed financed much of the rail bed and track installed in the 1870s and 1880s. While this no doubt disappointed shareholders, the tracks were bought at discounted prices by others and continued in productive use. Similarly today, companies such as Global Crossing laid thousands of miles of fiber optic networks prior to their bankruptcy. These networks still exist and as demand slowly recovers others will exploit them. The issue of who makes money and who loses is a trivial ex-post exercise determined amid the fallout and debris. As John Kenneth Galbraith once observed regarding the final disposition of economic bubbles and excesses, "recessions catch what the auditors miss." We would add "even if the auditor was Arthur Anderson." In Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's words, it is all part of the "genius of capitalism."

So as we see it, the current "new economy" has many years to run to the benefit of us all and Krugman's fulminations and frustrations can best be viewed with amusement and should not taken seriously. If there is a downside it is that a wave of stifling regulations will result that might negatively impact business innovation. However, we are betting on Bush to see through this danger and only allow a few cosmetic "reforms" go through.

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Sunday, July 07, 2002

Fein Multimaster

The cool tool of the world...

This is the Fein MultiMaster. It was formerly know as the Fein Detail Sander. It will do many different jobs (hence the awkward name) but detail sanding is what I use if for most. That triangular sanding pad can reach into corners like nothing else. Since I spend a lot of time building boxy objects, it's a winner for me. It works with an oscillating vibration that doesn't leave scratches.

It also has disk-shaped saw blades, with tiny teeth. Even thought the only motion is a vibration, they cut very well. And, you can press the blade against, say, a wall, and it will cut straight in, like pushing a knife into cheese. Even better, it won't cut you! It won't cut your skin. This is very nice if you have children. The saw the doctor uses to take a cast off works the same way.

My MultiMaster pretty much paid for itself when it got me out of a jam once. I had installed a complicated entertainment center, and on the wall behind it was an outlet covered with a blank plate. I was told that it wasn't important, and so like a fool I didn't cut an access hole for it. Of course it was the stereo wiring that had been installed several years before, just waiting for the entertainment center! I knew where it was and I used the Fein to cut straight into the back of the cabinet, without damaging the wall or the wires.

They are not cheap -- expect to spend $200, including accessories. But you are paying for quality. It's weighty and solid; not at all like consumer-grade gadgets. (It's actually a modified industrial angle-grinder.) Made in Germany.