Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for September 2007

A little Sunday Wal-Mart bashing

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Kevin Drum thinks Wal-Mart can do better by its employees:

Labor expenses only amount to about 10% of revenues for Wal-Mart. If you increased the pay of every single clerk, greeter, and stocker in the chain by two or three bucks an hour, it would only increase Wal-Mart’s prices by about 2%. Their prices would still be the lowest around because it’s not labor costs that account for most of their efficiency. It’s world class logistics, aggressive offshoring, enormous sales volumes, and ruthless bargaining with suppliers that account for most of it. If Wal-Mart had to offer low wages and lousy benefits just to stay in business, that would be one thing. But they don’t. We should expect them to do better.

Personally I think this is the wrong approach. Wal-Mart no doubt could afford to pay higher wages, but, like nearly all companies, they don’t pay more than they have to to attract and retain the workers they need. Pfizer or Goldman Sachs don’t pay the wages they do because they’re nice firms, they pay the wages they do because they have no choice: workers who possess such skills as analytical chemistry and currency arbitrage are more expensive than shelf stockers. And, although offering a “buck or two more” might not break the bank for Wal-Mart, offering significantly more robust benefits probably would have more of an adverse effect on their profits than Kevin’s glib assessment indicates. Health insurance is very costly in America. Unlike other, wiser nations, we rely on employers to act as purchasing agents for health benefits. It’s a stupid practice. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s shouldn’t be disparaged for a rational response to a policy that is not their fault.

I think Liberals waste a lot of energy engaging in corporation bashing. A company’s job is to make money. Not to provide for a just society. That’s government’s role. By all means spend more money on a stronger social safety net and universal healthcare, and raise taxes if you have to. But let companies get on with what they know how to do best: generate profits for their owners.

Written by Jasper

September 30, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Economics, Policy

Our long national nightmare is finally over

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Thank God. What a serious buzz killer this has been.

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September 17, 2007 at 8:36 pm

Monday Putin blogging

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Ross Douthat ponders the legacy of Vladimir Putin:

I think there’s little question that Putin has been one of the most successful world leaders of the new century, and I’ve always had the impression that this success is related to his being smarter, in some meaningful way, than most of his rivals and partners on the world stage… It will be very interesting to watch what he does after 2008 – both how he continues to exercise power in Russia (as he assuredly will), and what his de facto political dominance will mean for the leaders who succeed him. He will only be fifty-six when his term ends – younger than any of the front-runners for the GOP nomination, it’s worth noting – which means that the Putin era, in one fashion or another, probably still has decades left to run.

I guess time will tell. I personally suspect there’s another shoe that may still drop, and it’s called “the price of oil.”

It’s hard to imagine Putin accomplishing 10% of what he’s accomplished in recent years without all those fat petrochecks. I don’t buy the hype about oil remaining dear ad infinitum. Oh sure, in the long run we’re no doubt running out of the stuff, and over the long term it will likely get more expensive. The short and medium terms, however, are a different story.

Price spikes in the past have prompted conservation efforts. They’re doing so again. When you follow this process with the inevitable recession (we still haven’t managed to repeal the business cycle, by the bye), the price of oil drops. Usually quite substantially. And so, too, will Russian economic prospects, and the received wisdom about how great a leader Vladimir Putin has been.

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September 17, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Farm subsidies: even worse than you think

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Matt Zeitlin takes Robert Samuelson to task, not for his opposition to farm subsidies, but for his poor argument:

Robert Samuelson should be shooting a fish in the barrel, launching to a perennial column about the the evil of agricultural subsidies. Before I criticize Samuelson, let me make something clear, I support the total elimination of all agricultural subsidies, protections, tariffs, quotas and price supports. Not only do they distort the domestic market, but they also have a fair amount of culpability for hundreds of thousands of deaths and persistent poverty in the agricultural sector of the third world. Samuelson, seemingly afraid to argue that having a domestic supply of food isn’t all that important, tries to go the other way and ensure his readers that even without agricultural price supports and subsidies, there’d still be agriculture in the US…

I’m not going to re-quote the lengthly Samuelson excerpt Matt provides. I will key in on one conclusion he (Zeitlin) arrives at, however, that I believe is erroneous (even as I wholeheartedly agree with both Zeitlin and Samuelson about the evil of agricultural subsidies):

So if the US meat sector is doing well, it is largely because we subsidize it indirectly through keeping the price of corn low. This is, however, not an argument against getting rid of subsidies.

I’m extremely skeptical of Matt’s argument here, but it’s one I hear often. I think there’s a widespread belief out there that, although farm subsidies are a harmful policy as a whole, they at least keep food cheaper. I’m pretty sure this logic isn’t sound however, and here’s why.

In a nutshell, taxpayer money flowing to farmers tends to prop prop up inefficiency. Without subsidies, some acreage devoted to corn or soybeans or whatever would indeed be allowed to go fallow (or converted to golf courses, or whatever). But, to the extent that the domestic market (read meat producers and food processors) demanded it, any decrease in US agricultural output created by the ending of government subsidies would simply be met by higher efficiency farms. In other words, farmers in Iowa or Alberta or Brazil would meet the demand, and they’d do so on an economically efficient basis (otherwise they’d not be profitable). Over the long term this would almost certainly have the effect of lowering the price of agricultural commodities, and, by logical extension, meat and other foods.

By “enabling” inefficient producers to stay in business, or to control greater market share, or simply to produce less efficiently than they would need to in a subsidy-free environment, taxpayer supported subsidies mean that animal feed and other agricultural commodities are probably more expensive, and this must surely hurt the profits of meat producers. It also means we all get hit with higher prices at the dinner table.

Farm subsidies indeed create all kinds of economic distortions, and they absolutely hammer both taxpayers and developing world farmers. Thing is, though, they’re even worse than most people think.

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September 17, 2007 at 9:19 am

Iraq policy: just how crazy?

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Matt Yglesias talks about possible motivations behind US policy in Iraq:

…while the absence of political reconciliation is probably Iraq‘s biggest problem, it’s not a particularly large problem for the American military presence. On the contrary, a unified Iraq — especially one swayed by Iraqi public opinion — might be very likely to give the US the boot. By contrast, in a divided and chaotic Iraq one can easily imagine the main players resenting the US presence but preferring it to anarchy. Indeed, Bush seems to have convinced both the Maliki government and the Anbar Salvation Front that they need American troops to protect them from each other. Meanwhile, the Kurds want us to defend them from the Turks, and the Turks want us to keep the Kurds in line and there’s really no sign of an end to the tensions and violence. From one point of view it looks like a quagmire, but from another point of view it’s more-or-less ideal.

It’s really really really hard for me to believe that even some of the certified crazy people running US foreign and defense policy these days think our current situation in Iraq is “more-or-less ideal.” Unless they’re a whole lot more fucking crazy than I thought.

First, the meat grinder that is Iraq without question is putting enormous stress on the US military, and is surely negatively impacting its effectiveness. How the hell would would the US be able to respond to an outbreak of trouble in, say, East Asia? How can that be “ideal”? Moreover, the Iraq debacle is costing the Treasury over ten billion a month, if you believe the wildly conservative, unrealistic estimates (which fail to properly account for things like medical costs for rehabbing vets, etc.). Even for a country as rich as the US, writing an eleven figure check every freaking month ain’t chicken feed. What’s so vital about Iraq’s geography that couldn’t be emulated a lot more cheaply by bases in Kuwait or the UAE?

I’m personally no longer able to perceive any rational basis whatsoever behind US policy in Iraq. It’s now all about George Bush’s worries with respect to the history books.

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September 16, 2007 at 7:29 am

President Rudy and a Democratic Congress

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Ross Douthat speculates on the various possibilities and scenarios involving a Republican president in 2009 coupled with a Democratic Congress possessing fatter margins:

A vote for Mitt Romney, for instance, is probably a vote for Clinton-style triangulation, and a Republican White House that views bipartisan reform efforts (health care, anyone?) as the ticket to high approval ratings and second term. The same goes for McCain, most likely, given his track record in the Senate – unless he ends up engaged in a political war of attrition with the Democrats over Iraq. A vote for Rudy, on the other hand, is likely to be a vote for confrontation over triangulation – which is probably why so many conservative primary voters, a confrontational bunch if there ever was one, find him so easy to like. My calculus here has less to do with ideology than with governing style. You could argue, based on his record as New York’s mayor, that Rudy Giuliani is technically ideologically closer to the Democratic Party than most of his rivals in the field. But I’m nonetheless willing to bet that Washington would be a more polarized and nasty place with Giuliani in the White House than with McCain or Romney (or Huckabee or Thompson, for that matter) occupying the oval office.

Maybe. I’m still not convinced though, that, irregardless of the nastiness factor, a lot of what we see out of the Rudy campaign isn’t just plain old GOP primary politickin’ 101: run hard to the right until the nomination is sewn up, and then tack back to the center.

Now, because, given his pro gun control/pro sanctuary/pro abortion rights/pro gay past there’s not all that much that Rudy can do when it comes to demonstrating his right-wing bona fides, he just snarls his way through the campaign on the issues of national security and Hillary Clinton.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I agree with a lot of folks that there’s something faintly Nixonian about Giuliani, and he probably wouldn’t be greeted very warmly by a mostly Democratic Washington. On the other hand neither was Nixon, but, working with a Democratic congress, he actually managed to get a lot done, domestically.

In the final analysis, though, I doubt any of this matters. Count me among the people spouting the conventional wisdom that we’ll surely be welcoming a Democratic president in 2009.

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September 15, 2007 at 10:44 am

Posted in Election 08, Politics

Choose your battlefields

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Here’s a thought: we continually hear that we must stay in Iraq in order to wage the War on Terror, and that al-Qaeda in Iraq has materialized as a deadly foe. Hence retreating from Iraq would be synonymous with being handed a major defeat by al-Qaeda.

But since when do astute wagers of war allow the enemy to dictate the terms of battle? Sure, perhaps al-Qaeda would like to use Iraq as a battleground against the United States. But why should the United States want to use Iraq as a battleground against al-Qaeda? It hardly seems obvious that just because it makes sense for your enemy to favor a particular location for use as a battlefield it likewise makes sense for you.

America clearly has good reasons for wanting to fight the enemy called al-Qaeda. But likewise there pretty clearly exist some major disadvantages for America in wanting to do that fighting in the country known as Iraq

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September 13, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Osama’s latest

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I’ve been looking for the text all over. Many thanks to the fellow WordPress blog “Wolf Pangloss” for taking the time to type it in:

All praise is due to Allah, who built the heavens and earth in justice, and created man as a favor and grace from Him. And from His ways is that the days rotate between the people, and from His Law is retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed. And all praise is due to Allah, who awakened His slaves’ desire for the Garden, and all of them will enter it except those who refuse. And whoever obeys Him alone in all of his affairs will enter the Garden, and whoever disobeys Him will have refused.As for what comes after: Peace be upon he who follows the Guidance. People of America: I shall be speaking to you on important topics which concern you, so lend me your ears. I begin by discussing the war which is between us and some of its repercussions for us and you.

To preface, I say: despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able – by the grace of Allah, the Most High – to change the direction of its compass. And in fact, the subject of the Mujahideen has become an inseparable part of the speech of your leader, and the effects and signs of that are not hidden.

Since the 11th, many of America’s policies have come under the influence of the Mujahideen, and that is by the grace of Allah, the Most High. And as a result, the people discovered the truth about it, its reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally and it was bled dry economically, even if our interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives, despite the differing intentions.

And for your information media, during the first years of the war, lost its credibility and manifested itself as a tool of the colonialist empires, and its condition has often been worse than the condition of the media of the dictatorial regimes which march in the caravan of the single leader.

Then Bush talks about his working with al-Maliki and his government to spread freedom in Iraq but he is in fact is working with the leaders of one sect against another sect, in the belief that this will quickly decide the war in his favor.

And thus, what is called the civil war came into being and matters worsened at his hands before getting out of his control and him becoming like the one who plows and sows the sea: he harvests nothing but failure.

So these are some of the results of the freedom about whose spreading he is talking to you. And then the backtracking of Bush on his insistence on not giving the United Nations expanded jurisdiction in Iraq is an implicit admission of his loss and defeat there. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 9, 2007 at 11:11 am

A Gothamite woos Iowa pig farmers

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Matt Yglesias writes:

Given what happened to John McCain, I can’t help but think that as the Republican electorate learns more and more about what Rudy Giuliani really thinks about immigration, he’s going to be in big trouble. He managed to somehow pass himself off as an opponent of the comprehensive immigration measure, but the reality is that as mayor he turned New York City into a giant “sanctuary city” and sought vigorously through the courts to preserve that status. This was all unremarkable in what’s probably the most pro-immigration jurisdiction in the country, but it’s really, really, really not where the GOP base is.

I’m not so sure Matt is right that Rudy is going to be called to account for his past ideological, er, peculiarities. GOP primary voters are more hawkish than the electorate in general (duh!) and Giuliani has a story that can be readily adapted to tap into hawkish sentiment. This is a big advantage, and to a considerable degree can overcome past transgressions like friendliness to gay people and lack of immigrant bashing.

But I’ve come to the conclusion Rudy’s single biggest advantage may be his media savvy: the guy’s smooth and articulate in front of a camera, and I think in large part that’s simply the result of where he happened to cut his political teeth. You can’t thrive in the hothouse environment of the world’s media capital without developing a pretty keen sense of how to spin, how to bullshit, how to make answers sound plausible in middle class living rooms, and how to perform in front of a camera.

It has been said that hailing from New York City is a big disadvantage in American politics. Maybe we’re all about to learn how false this notion is.

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September 8, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Britain, guns, and the American model

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According to Briton Richard Munday,

America’s disenchantment with “gun control” is based on experience: whereas in the 1960s and 1970s armed crime rose in the face of more restrictive gun laws (in much of the US, it was illegal to possess a firearm away from the home or workplace), over the past 20 years all violent crime has dropped dramatically, in lockstep with the spread of laws allowing the carrying of concealed weapons by law-abiding citizens. Florida set this trend in 1987, and within five years the states that had followed its example showed an 8 per cent reduction in murders, 7 per cent reduction in aggravated assaults, and 5 per cent reduction in rapes. Today 40 states have such laws, and by 2004 the US Bureau of Justice reported that “firearms-related crime has plummeted” In Britain, however, the image of violent America remains unassailably entrenched. Never mind the findings of the International Crime Victims Survey (published by the Home Office in 2003), indicating that we now suffer three times the level of violent crime committed in the United States; never mind the doubling of handgun crime in Britain over the past decade, since we banned pistols outright and confiscated all the legal ones.

Anyone else agree with me that Mr Munday uses some mighty deceptive statistics?

“Violent crime” means different things in different places. The bar fight meriting a simple police caution in one country results in felony assault charges in another. By the “gold standard” in objective crime statistics — murder (you can’t fake a corpse, after all) — the United States reigns supreme among rich countries, with a rate three time that of the United Kingdom. Surely all of this disparity cannot be attributed to America’s lax gun controls. But surely some of it can.

It makes sense to allow law-abiding citizens to own firearms provided simple precautions are in place. But in America many of the fifty states eschew even the most basic, common sense controls, resulting in a surreal excess of guns that renders laws aimed at criminal gun use utterly meaningless and unenforceable.

It ought to be possible to allow law-abiding citizens to own guns while denying their use to criminals. Unfortunately, one cannot look to the United States to find out how this is done.

Written by Jasper

September 7, 2007 at 11:04 pm

Posted in Crime, Policy

Long live flexicurity

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A great Ezra Klein comment thread was generated from his post entitled: Wal-Mart and the Mom-and-Pops. I won’t do a major excerpt (read the whole thing), but will just mention that a sub-discussion got involved using the example of Wal-Mart, and its efforts to browbeat the maker of Crest into lowering prices, and how this cycle plays out in the form of poor wages and benefits for workers. Anyway, one commenter opined that

It’s a stupid argument that Wal-Mart or Crest or any other company can thrive only by treating workers like shit and paying them little.

Yes, but who exactly is arguing that undervaluing workers is the “only” way a company can thrive? Talk about straw man arguments. Obviously plenty of enormously successful private sector employers in the United States pay excellent wages and benefits. Indeed, American workers are some of the world’s most expensive. The key question is: what if any role should government play in mandating how much workers should cost.

While it may be true that sometimes firms can prosper quite nicely while paying a relatively high price for labor (see Ford Motor Company circa 1928) it’s equally true that employers can sometimes perform pretty dismally while overpaying for labor (see Ford Motor Company circa 2007). All in all I’d just as soon have a firm’s owners, and not government, determine how much they can afford to pay for labor. I doubt Goldman Sachs or Boeing or IBM or Pfizer are paying more than they have to for their American workers. It’s just that the going rate for skill sets in those fields is high — a lot higher than the going rate for the skill sets involved in stacking shelves or flipping burgers.

Not that workers doing these types of less skill-intensive tasks ought to be treated badly. Far from it. They ought to enjoy — like their counterparts in other rich countries — the generous protections of a robust, taxpayer-supported safety net. The big advantage to relying on government for social protections — rather than private sector mandates — is that government is too big to fail. One can certainly imagine a GM, say, or a Caterpillar having trouble paying for healthcare or pensions. But the United States government is very unlikely to give up ownership of its printing presses.

Very robust safety net + very free markets: the Nordics have it right.

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September 6, 2007 at 5:41 pm

More on housing

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A commenter on Greg Mankiw’s blog opines thusly on one of the various plans being floated to help financially distressed homeowners:

As someone who is saving for a down payment for a house in the DC area, I’m selfishly against it. I want the foreclosed houses coming on the market droping the prices.

Hmmm.  About the only thing I can think to say in reply is: AMEN.

I don’t think anyone welcomes the prospect of an increase in homelessness, but giving your house back to the bank and re-joining the ranks of the renters is hardly the same thing. This is the problem I have with all the current schemes out there designed to help people stay in their homes: they’re anti-free market in a most fundamental (and unwise) way. And yes, they’re also very unfair to a class of people who tend to be (on average) even poorer than financially stressed homeowners: renters.

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September 4, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Economics, Policy

Subsidizing the American Dream

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Matt Yglesias ponders government policy with respect to home ownership:

If we didn’t subsidize howmownership, people would own less home and own more stocks and bonds instead. Some of that owning “less home” would come from people renting rather than buying, and some would come from buyers simply buying smaller houses. That’s be good for the environment, and more capital would be available for business operating in non-housing sectors. Meanwhile, I feel like if we weren’t specifically encouraging an ideology of home ownership (“American dream” and all that), you might get less of the risky behavior that seems to be causing trouble of late. I feel like there are a lot of people who would never dream of doing something so exotic as margin trading who’ve been basically willing to do the same thing with their investment in the housing market. If anything, it seems to me that we should be work at the margin to discourage people from treating their homes as speculative investment commodities.

A number of Matt’s commenters raised objections to the above line of thought, perhaps best summarized by the line:

Homeownership is encouraged to make sure economics and democracy are properly aligned.

That’s all well and good, but this still doesn’t say why government (as opposed to, say, one’s family or friends, or the desire to have a golden retriever,  or the wish to paint one’s living room midnight blue) needs to “encourage” the consumption of owner-occupied housing — especially via massive tax code subsidies as is currently the case. I mean, if it were a matter of, say, having a 30% home ownership rate vs the actual 69%, the mortgage interest deduction might make more sense. But there are plenty of good reasons to own a home entirely independent of the government cash involved, and countries whose governments subsidize home ownership to a lesser degree than ours (Britain, for instance) enjoy home ownership rates comparable to America’s.

Thing is, it’s not even clear the tax code actually boosts the ownership rate, because that’s not the same thing as boosting the consumption of owner-occupied housing (which current policy most assuredly does accomplish). I think it’s entirely possible that the increase in the consumption of owner-occupied housing observable in increases in average home size and amenities (and, of course, price) largely cancels out hoped-for gains in the ownership rate (especially in areas where the subsidized increase in demand can’t easily be accommodated by new inventory).

What we should be asking ourselves is: is the cost of the tax subsidies and attendant misallocation of capital justified by the extra (say) three points of home ownership we may (or may not) gain as a result.

My guess would be “no.”

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September 3, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Economics, Policy

When I die…

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…I really really really hope the Good Lord allows me to come back as Tom Brady.

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September 3, 2007 at 8:49 pm

A false choice?

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Will Wilkinson is skeptical of Ezra Klein’s claims about middle class economic anxiety. He also believes the benefits flowing from globalization strongly outweigh the negatives:

I think lots of firms will be seeking less-expensive foreign labor, that this will have a significant effect on the jobs available to Americans, but also on the price of many goods and services (down) and on the incentives to acquire new and/or improved skills (stronger).

Although I don’t disagree with any of this, and although I’m a committed fan of globalization, I’m skeptical that a government guarantee of health insurance, say, or a dollop of wage replacement insurance for those too old to make the transition into a new career would do all that much to blunt the incentives to upgrade skills. Moreover, I’m increasingly convinced that lack of health/economic security is exerting at least some negative impact on the ability of Americans to fully partake of the so-called “Ebay economy.”

I guess what I’m saying is that I suspect to a substantial degree we can have our cake and it eat it, too: Sam’s Club protections combined with Brave New Economy opportunities and efficiency. I reject the notion that we must choose either/or because it least appears to my eyes that a number of other places (New Zealand? Ireland? Canada?) are rejecting this false choice to their great benefit.

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September 3, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Survival of the fattest

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“British School Kids Shun Healthy Foods” thunders this AP headline picked up by The NY Times:

Please sir, we don’t want any more! Naked Chef Jamie Oliver’s push for healthier foods to replace greasy french fries, chicken nuggets and turkey twizzlers on British school menus is in a twist. Apparently, the students aren’t anxious to try it. The celebrity chef has led a nationwide campaign to improve the quality of food served in schools, demanding more money for meals and a ban on junk food. His TV series ”Jamie’s School Dinners” exposed how cafeteria menus relied on prepared foods like chicken nuggets or the turkey twizzler — a corkscrew of mainly reconstituted turkey scraps and preservatives. Such meals, usually served with piles of fatty french fries, could cost as little as 66 cents. Spurred to action, the government set up the School Food Trust in 2005 to help schools improve the quality of their food. Sample menus for the new program included vegetarian quiche, lentil burgers and mushroom tagliatelle. But more than 424,000 students opted out of their school meal plans in the first two years of the program, according to government figures obtained by the opposition Liberal Democrats and released Monday.

You mean to tell me that a government’s efforts to get a group of people to eat healthily is being trumped by homo sapien’s five million year evolutionary history — you know, the one that favored the survival of those who love to eat fatty, carb-laden, calorie-rich foods to better ward off the next episode of famine?

I’m shocked, I tell you, simply shocked!

Written by Jasper

September 3, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Film review: Infamous

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A more accessible and in many ways a more mainstream film than the previous year’s Capote, Infamous (2006) also happens to be the better and more entertaining of the two pictures. It offers the viewer a much richer, fascinating depiction of the Manhattan social scene at the end of the 1950s, and also features a good deal of genuine humor — there are some truly hilarious scenes in the film’s first half. And yet the early jokes only serve to make the picture’s sombre denouement all the more harrowing.

As for the performances, well, some will say Toby Jones doesn’t quite possess the acting chops of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but I think it’s more the case that he simply doesn’t overact in the same manner as Hoffman (of whom I’m a big fan, for what it’s worth). In retrospect I’d have to say the usually superb P.S. Hoffman was rather miscast in Capote. But this is most definitely not the case with British character actor Toby Jones’s rendition of the famous writer. Mr. Jones’s light touch is given an especially strong foundation in the role by his startling physical resemblance to the real Truman Capote, as well as his dead-on accent and speech patterns.

There is also a delightful, understated, Oscar-worthy performance from Sandra Bullock as Capote’s longtime friend Harper Lee, and a dark, ferocious and equally award-deserving Daniel Craig as the death row inmate Perry Smith.

Some times less is more. But there are times, too, when more is more. Infamous — with its more traditional Hollywood treatment including lavish sets, over-the-top humor gags and a stable of big budget stars — is a slick, effective, and highly entertaining movie about Truman Capote and the writing of “In Cold Blood.”

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September 3, 2007 at 10:30 am

Posted in Reviews

Damn that boy can run

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Wariner’s latest heroics:

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September 1, 2007 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Sports

Public relations and perfect storms

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Kevin Drum is impressed by the efforts of General Petraeus to market America’s surge strategy in Iraq:

Five months ago Petraeus was guaranteeing to wavering Republicans that they’d see progress in August, precisely the month when the PR campaign was scheduled to go into high gear. Today he’s issuing dire warnings about al-Qaeda hegemony and nine-dollar gas if we leave, circulating bio pages that let his staff know whether they’re dealing with friend or foe among visiting congress members, and insisting repeatedly that violence is down in classified briefings where he doesn’t have to publicly defend his figures. If these don’t sound like the actions of an honest broker to you, they don’t to me either. They sound like elements of a campaign with one overriding purpose: to convince politicians and opinion makers that we’re making progress in Iraq regardless of whether we are or not. We’re only seeing the results of Petraeus’s PR blitzkrieg now, but it’s obviously been in the works for months and it’s been a smashing success. The general has profoundly outplayed the amateurs on their home turf. Bravo, general. Well played.

To which Jasper replies: if Kevin’s correct then surely Petraeus must be working for the Democrats.

For some time now I’ve thought the GOP’s only hope at avoiding a blowout in November of ’08 was to have the military at least begin a substantial withdrawal by, say, the spring of ’08. Voters could then go to the polls in November, and, even if they mostly held the Republicans responsible for the Iraq debacle, they could nonetheless be legitimately hopeful that the light at the tunnel’s end was finally shining. Petraeus’s PR success makes this scenario much less likely. You can only avoid paying the piper so long, and for the Republicans, the bill is going to come due uncomfortably close to election day. A similar dynamic tends to be observable with economic bad news: recessions tend to be very unkind to incumbent parties. The Republicans would be better off having one in ’07 than ’08.

It’s looking more and more like the GOP is facing a perfect storm of political misery in 2008.

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September 1, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Election 08, Iraq, Terrorism