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:: Friday, April 30 2004 ::

So, it's after midnight, here, on May 1st. The European Union now has 25 members. And I am left with a question:

Let us assume, for the moment, that there will not be a civil war in Europe. One might then say that Europeans have traded in their wars, in favor of beauracracy (leaving aside the Brits, who might be accused of an identity crisis if one were feeling unkind). The question then becomes 'is the slow grinding death of those broken by the inexorable wheels of beauracracy better, or worse, than a quick death due to war?' There is no question that life is made, in some small way, worse each and every day by the little invasions of government into one's life. The paperwork for even simple things, the endless forms, the unhelpful nameless faceless unelected people making decisions far away that affect every facet of one's life. Is it better to choose the slow way, rather than the fast?

How's that for a macabre thought this evening? But there it is. I was thinking about it because my friend from work seemed so singularly unenthused about the whole 'expansion thing'. Like her homeland (Germany) was losing something due to the inexorable growth of the EU. And, for all I know, maybe she's right. The states have been a federal system for so long, it's difficult to remember all the little things that make small countries so wonderful. And yet. Little countries, isolated for too long from the rest of the world, can make very peculiar decisions. Every now and again Europe gets a reminder - this evening, one of the other stories on the news was a Jewish cemetery which had been desecrated, swastikas painted on the gravestones. Things like this seem to indicate perhaps a bit more worldliness serves everyone. But, it isn't as if the big, 'worldly' countries have shown their stuff lately, either. It's all a balancing act. But it seems that this is an occasion for people to think about these issues. Now that, in many ways, it's too late....
:: David (18:10 in Michigan, 00:10 in Paris)

Well, we apparently only get one channel that has a big European expansion party on it. And it's bizarre. So we turned it off. But somewhere, right now, fireworks are going off and people are celebrating the accession of ten new countries into the EU.

But what really has the news people going are reports of torture by American and now British soldiers, and Michael Jackson's day in court. What a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
:: David (17:20 in Michigan, 23:20 in Paris)

I've been working, for a little while, on a page which will allow me to edit my web pages remotely, but it's taken a turn for the worse - for some odd reason, some combination of characters in the 'HTML comment' sequence (<!--) makes the whole thing blow up. Frustration abounds.
:: David (13:58 in Michigan, 19:58 in Paris)

So, I spent all day expecting some mention of last night's "60 minutes" broadcast in the U.S. media. The story, which featured photographic evidence of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners, was the lead story on the BBC, and has already turned up in most major news outlets over here. In the US, it would seem, there was not a peep. At least, if MSNBC and CNN are indicative. I hope there's a really great explanation for why it wasn't mentioned in the papers this morning either. Maybe it was too late to change the front page? Perhaps tomorrow's headlines will reassure me that people in the US are outraged and disturbed. I hope so.
:: David (11:17 in Michigan, 17:17 in Paris)

While I was typing, they moved along the street, so they are now standing directly opposite my window. The amp is on wheels, and as of this moment, they are playing 'when the saints come marching in'. Perhaps it is a function of all trumpet playing buskers that tempo is not their strong suit.
:: David (10:17 in Michigan, 16:17 in Paris)

There is a duo outside, one with a French horn and one with a Trumpet, armed with a giant Peavy amplifier which is playing various salsa and samba background music while they play the lead parts. I don't know if they are busking, or just being odd, because they are in the middle of a quiet, rather wealthy neighbourhood. On the other hand, it certainly makes the last hours of the day pass in a more bizarre way.
:: David (10:15 in Michigan, 16:15 in Paris)

An interesting article in The Australian today, written by three graduates of Australia's public school system, discussing the growing inequality in Australia's public school system. Given the nature of state funding in the US, I hate to imagine where we fell.
:: David (07:13 in Michigan, 13:13 in Paris)

I am going to miss coming to work every day and hearing about the latest adventure of my officemate's children, who attend French school. There's always some new strange thing to be learned about any educational system, and the French (Parisien?) system is no exception. But, from next week I will be sharing my office with someone different (an actual French person!) so perhaps there will be a whole new series of interesting stories to tell.
:: David (03:30 in Michigan, 09:30 in Paris)

:: Thursday, April 29 2004 ::

All work, no play, etc. But now, from left field, a trip to Brussels! Yes! On May 1st I shall escape Paris for the weekend and go party in the place where the EU happens, on the big day when ten new countries come in! Fun for the whole family!
:: David (15:51 in Michigan, 21:51 in Paris)

:: Wednesday, April 28 2004 ::

In the grander scheme of amusing projects, the Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project makes my list. Not only does it deal with two of my favorite subjects (computer science and ancient Rome), but it also has great potential for any number of archaeological projects, which require putting together lots of little pieces. With the power of computers only going upward, one envisions a day when simply scanning the various bits and pieces will suffice, and one can let the computer show you how they fit. Of course, some would say that will take all the fun out of it.
:: David (11:23 in Michigan, 17:23 in Paris)

Now television in the US is entering the fray over showing war dead. The BBC has an article today which talks about how Nightline plans to do a show on the casualties of Iraq. The show is apparently planned as a series of images of people who have died in the war. It is billed as a tribute to those who have given their lives for their country, but many people are saying there are unlterior motives. The funny thing here is that you can do the best tribute show in the world, and people can still see it as politically motivated. And in fact, it could be politically motivated.
:: David (10:12 in Michigan, 16:12 in Paris)

:: Tuesday, April 27 2004 ::

Sasha has reminded me of an article, an opinion piece in the Guardian recently, which discussed one possible reason why images of fallen Americans should not be released to the world at large - because they would not want their image to be used to protest the war. Sadly, I couldn't find the article, because it discussed in detail, but the long and the short was that I found it a reasonable argument, as far as it went, but not convincing enough. Images cannot be contained, and although you can put an image up and say 'see? this is why war is bad!', you will not limit the reaction people have to the image merely by framing their viewing with comments or suggestions of what the images say.
:: David (16:56 in Michigan, 22:56 in Paris)

The Memory Hole, which I will not link to because its bandwidth has been killed by news reports, has published several hundred photos of American Casualties in Iraq. It's understandable, from a political position, to understand why the US would not want these pictures seen. But from any other perspective, it makes no sense. Take for example this photo of troops standing guard over the coffins of four fallen soldiers. It is not possible to see this image for other than what it is, and it is impossible not to be moved. I fail to see the 'disrespect'. Rather, I see the opposite.
:: David (16:42 in Michigan, 22:42 in Paris)

So does anyone else remember the big statue of Rocky that caused such an uproar in Philidelphia? It came up, somehow, in conversation today. Scary!
:: David (16:19 in Michigan, 22:19 in Paris)

Got bored. Put up some photos from the Louvre. Felt better.
:: David (15:16 in Michigan, 21:16 in Paris)

Long days without end make David a dull boy. Even though this week is not as hectic as last, it still isn't exactly a holiday. I can't wait until this damned thing is published and I can go back to the fun stuff - making things perfect!

Even though I'm off, now, I'm probably going to do some programming - I've been wanting for a while to make a web page that would let me update the website from any site, remotely. It is somewhat dangerous, in that it would allow anyone to edit any page with a password or two, but the fact of the matter is, who cares? My web page, while big and gaudy, isn't exactly the most exciting thing to hack, given that I don't even encrypt.
:: David (13:28 in Michigan, 19:28 in Paris)

The Times reported today that a minor rift, which could lead to a major rift, has opened in the EU between new members, who are lowering taxes to attract foreign investment, and old members, with their large social expenditures (and high taxes). Since the new members of the EU often receive cash transfers from their more well-to-do colleagues, it is easy to see why Göran Persson, Swedish Prime Minister, stated

If they believe that we will tax heavily in Sweden, Finland and Denmark and send the money to Eastern Europe, where the upper class does not pay taxes, this is not sustainable.
However, some movement of business is inevitable, regardless of tax levels, because of the cost of labour. In Slovakia and Estonia, labour runs about €3.05/hour. Compare that to the UK (€23.85) or Germany (€26.54). Nevertheless, Europe would do well to set some common taxation levels on business and allow the differing costs of labour to do the rest. The new members would benefit from bursting coffers, the old from fewer cash transfers to the new members. Whether that will be allowed by countries like Poland (with a 20% unemployment rate) is another question altogether.
:: David (09:14 in Michigan, 15:14 in Paris)

:: Monday, April 26 2004 ::

James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, has written a piece in the IHT in which he calls (as he is oft wont to do) for more money for developing countries. It's interesting the way the rhetoric has changed - now development aid is more than just morally right, it's also enlightened self-interest. As he notes:

Today, the developed countries spend just over $50 billion on aid to developing countries. By comparison, they spend about $900 billion on defense. If the numbers were reversed, there probably would be no need to spend more than $50 billion on defense.
While that may be a bit excessive, when you think about how many countries would be able to take care of themselves, given that amount of aid, certainly spending of defence could be reduced significantly. Wolfensohn also takes a not-so-subtle swipe at the current protectionist rhetoric in the U.S., noting
In the post-9/ll world, the rich and poor worlds are linked as never before -by economics and trade, migration, climate change, disease, drugs, conflict and, yes, terrorism. We know that elections are won and lost on local issues - that is true for every country. But it is global issues, and especially poverty, that will shape the world our children live in. We must act together now to address what we know are the root causes of injustice and instability.
The World Bank has had its bad moments, and probably will continue to do so. The legitimacy of Aid in the form of loans is something I still haven't worked out if I support. Too many countries now spend a huge amount of their tax revenue paying interest on loans made decades ago. But urging wealthy nations to give money to poorer nations for things like schools is something I have no problem supporting.
:: David (04:47 in Michigan, 10:47 in Paris)

:: Sunday, April 25 2004 ::

The Reverend Canon Sharon Gracen (don't ask me what a reverend canon is - all I know is that she is not yet 'Very Reverend' but gets called 'Canon' in all the documents) departed from the American Cathedral today, after two and a half years. There was a little party in the Dean's Garden to say farewell. It was sad, because in truth she is probably the reason we started going to the American Cathdral on a regular basis. The first time we went, she gave a big anti-war sermon (as the people sitting in front of us noted, "this is the second one in a row!" in offended tones). In fact, her liking for speaking on lively issues was noted when one of the people speaking at the farewell, pretending to read from her secret diary, read an entry rejoicing at the fact that in one sermon she had 'managed to work in Iraq, the Taliban, Cheney, Halliburton, me, a song, and two references to the big Guy!' We had gotten to know her better over the lenten series of speeches, when we all spent (more time than I absolutely wanted to spend) doing dishes after the speakers were finished. There weren't as many volunteers for dish duty as you might think! Fortunately, we quite enjoy the speaking that (I have to put the full title - it makes me smile) The Very Reverend Zachary Fleetwood (pictured here with Canon Gracen) does, so we'll keep going. And who knows - maybe the next person they bring in will be as lively. But I doubt it.
:: David (11:18 in Michigan, 17:18 in Paris)

So the cat from next door came back yesterday. You may remember in the fall of last year we had a surprise visit from the cat next door, despite the fact that we live six floors up. Well, yesterday he put on an even scarier display by trying to come in our window while it was closed. He wedged himself between the window and the iron grille, and managed to work his way fairly high. It was quite terrifying, because had he reached the top he would have flipped over backwards, and down at least one flight, more likely seven, to land on the sidewalk (or the street) in a very bad way. So we opened the window, chased him about the apartment, and returned him to his home. She was quite surprised to see him coming to the front door, as we don't think they had noticed his absence, and thought he was still in the apartment.
:: David (03:49 in Michigan, 09:49 in Paris)

Ah, Cyprus. I think I have mentioned before that I worked with a Greek Cypriot. He told me all about his experiences, which I think are instructive. You see, the vote foundered, on the Greek side, over the question of 'right of return' (the same issue the Israeli/Palestinian question turns on). The 'right of return' refers to people who were thrown off their land when the other side invaded (in the case of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots were thrown out when the Turkish army invaded). My associate was one of those people, and he told me about his family home, and how soldiers with guns had burst in, held them for a couple of days, and then threw them off their land. So you can see, obviously, how someone might feel strongly about voting for an arrangement which effectively legitimized the situation. I suspect we're going to have a long, long wait before people are willing to cast votes in favor, at least on the Greek side.
:: David (03:43 in Michigan, 09:43 in Paris)

:: Saturday, April 24 2004 ::

I thought this story was a lot of fun - it's all about how things we take completely for granted can be a service in the right place, like Africa.
:: David (17:57 in Michigan, 23:57 in Paris)

Lovely day - time to go out and explore warm, sunny Paris!
:: David (10:01 in Michigan, 16:01 in Paris)

Actually, the whole New York Times front page was pretty interesting today - lots of random stuff. I like the paper, for the most part. I just wish it really were a national paper, instead of a local paper with good national coverage. Why they don't just make a second edition which drops the New York focus is beyond me. Unless one counts the IHT
:: David (10:00 in Michigan, 16:00 in Paris)

Some amazingly unrelated stories on homelessness today. In Wired today, there is a story about how congress has mandated a database of homeless people, another of those tremendously bad ideas governments get involving data collection. And, in the New York Times, the story of a woman who returned from Iraq to her baby, and no house. For the NYT article, username "odoketa" password "beagle".
:: David (09:58 in Michigan, 15:58 in Paris)

:: Friday, April 23 2004 ::

I finally escaped work for a while! Hoorah! I had a little amusement today when I realized that I could call Finian on a work related issue. Sadly, he was out of the office, so there was no "Hello, I'm calling from France to bother you at work" moment. This evening, mostly relaxing and watching an old movie - "The African Queen" with Kathryn Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. And the first ever Queer Eye episode! Woo! And now, bedtime.
:: David (18:53 in Michigan, 00:53 in Paris)

:: Thursday, April 22 2004 ::

There's an interesting article in the New York Times today talking about how colleges are becoming bastions of the rich.

More members of this year's freshman class at the University of Michigan have parents making at least $200,000 a year than have parents making less than the national median of about $53,000, according to a survey of Michigan students. At the most selective private universities across the country, more fathers of freshmen are doctors than are hourly workers, teachers, clergy members, farmers or members of the military — combined.
and the numbers become even worse when you realize that people tend to under-report family income on surveys:
When officials at Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York, matched survey data with financial-aid forms, they found that students often listed their parents' income as lower than it really was, said Cheryl Brown, the director of undergraduate admissions.
as the article notes, and as many people (most recently in the UK) have pointed out, tuition makes for a better equipped campus:
The advantages of campuses with increasingly wealthy student bodies are obvious, educators say: the colleges have more resources for research and student activities, more professors doing cutting-edge work and more students who received solid high school educations.
But the article also reaffirms something many have been saying for some time - sticker shock sends many away:

But they also have much steeper tuition bills than in the past, and this seems to have turned off many middle- and low-income families. Some students are not willing to take on the tens of thousands of dollars of debt that is often necessary. Others, studies show, underestimate the available amount of financial aid.

"We were founded on the principle of allowing larger numbers of students to go to college in an affordable way," Mr. Spencer, Michigan's admission director, said. "But having said that, the price of college has gone up, and many of the truly needy will not bother to apply."

Hopefully some of the people pushing for massive top-up fees in the UK are paying attention.
:: David (09:22 in Michigan, 15:22 in Paris)

I clearly have to change my pre-bedtime eating habits or something. I had a dream that my boss worked at a demonic thinktank. Kinda like Wolfram and Hart, only more diabolic. The worst part is, I think this was the second in a series, because I seem to remember having an interview to work at this place on a previous evening. Bizarre, bizarre stuff. And then, to add insult to injury, I had one of those dreams which incorporated my snooze button, so I woke up 20 minutes late. *sigh* But it's Thursday, which means for better or worse the week is almost out.
:: David (01:46 in Michigan, 07:46 in Paris)

:: Wednesday, April 21 2004 ::

€116 to anywhere in Spain... life is tough. Now if I could only take the time off!
:: David (16:53 in Michigan, 22:53 in Paris)

Bombs, bombs, everywhere bombs. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, where's next? Tell me again how safe the 'war on terror' has made us all....
:: David (16:30 in Michigan, 22:30 in Paris)

I do quite enjoy the work of David Drake. Yes, he primarily writes military fiction, but it's well done military fiction. And when you're looking for mindless entertainment, well done military fiction will often serve quite well. I am approaching the end of the last book of the Belisarius series, which makes me sad, honestly, because I have enjoyed them immensely.
:: David (05:23 in Michigan, 11:23 in Paris)

:: Tuesday, April 20 2004 ::

Another long day... I can't wait until this week is over, one way or the other. Long days make me sad. On the up side, next week, or the week after, or whenever, I can take some serious me time. Of course, I just had a week off, which is good, because I'm not sure I could have put in this kind of time otherwise....
:: David (14:18 in Michigan, 20:18 in Paris)

I have discovered, once again to my chagrin, that I am useless when emergencies happen. A woman next to me on the train fainted. It was supposed to be a five minute ride from Gambetta to Republique. Instead it was 20 minutes, and somewhere in teh middle the heat became too much. I myself am actually somewhat lightheaded as I type this. Anyway, apropo of nothing she slumped to the floor. And I stood there, gormless, while others dealt with it. Once again, in part, it was a language thing. Mostly, though, it was just bad habits - not getting involved in things which don't concern you-type reflexes. By the time I checked in the whole thing was more or less resolved.
:: David (03:25 in Michigan, 09:25 in Paris)

:: Monday, April 19 2004 ::

Home! I left the house around 8:20 this morning, and I got back at about 8:20 this evening. Long day. Thankfully, there's only four of them to go!
:: David (14:24 in Michigan, 20:24 in Paris)

According to MSNBC today,

President Bush criticized Spain's new prime minister for his announced withdrawal of troops from Iraq and told him to avoid actions that he said give "false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq."
the article goes on to say that Kerry "also deplored Spain’s move", but then goes on to quote him as saying
Spain and all the world have an interest in rebuilding an Iraq that is not a haven for terrorists and a failed state. I had hoped the prime minister would have reconsidered his position, and I hope that in the days ahead the United States and the world can work with him to find a way to keep Spain engaged in the efforts in Iraq.
which makes the use of the word 'deplored' seem just a touch on the strong side.
:: David (13:20 in Michigan, 19:20 in Paris)

Drowning in work...
:: David (11:55 in Michigan, 17:55 in Paris)

:: Sunday, April 18 2004 ::

Why wouldn't the Americans let the French be codename 'lobster'? The BBC fills us in!
:: David (14:05 in Michigan, 20:05 in Paris)

Hm. Manual network configurations, port forwarding, and other bizarre beasts, but the wireless network is alive and well, and eMule could not be happier. And I am fairly happy too - I much prefer being able to be other places than just sitting in front of my desk.
:: David (11:20 in Michigan, 17:20 in Paris)

Something amusing for a Sunday morning - apparently Quantas Airlines is no longer running business class to the Gold Coast in Australia. This has apparently been a good economic decision, but has irritated political leaders who claim that the wealthy region should have more options than budget, especially on the national carrier of Australia. As the article states:

Tourism chiefs have given Qantas a cautious thumbs-up, arguing that almost all potential visitors are interested in value for money.

Politicians and the media, meanwhile, resent the implied snub, and argue that the region's business leaders will resent being crammed into "cattle class".

Which does sort of leave us with the question - why is 'cattle class' good enough for everyone except the wealthy...?
:: David (03:51 in Michigan, 09:51 in Paris)

:: Saturday, April 17 2004 ::

A day off. I was at work until 7:30 last night, but today... today I slept until 11AM. I think this may have been the first real sleep I got. Sasha did not fare as well, as she actually woke up when my mother called at like 2 in the morning. In that 'is that the phone ringing?' kind of way. Thankfully, I sleep through things like that. So eleven hours of uninterrupted sleep for me. Now I may actually survive next week, which will involve trying to finish everything for publication.
:: David (07:14 in Michigan, 13:14 in Paris)

:: Friday, April 16 2004 ::

I sometimes find it simply amazing the amount of power we are now putting on every person's desk in any typical office. Using the simple models we have developed, and the macro language in Excel, I am generating over 1300 different model runs, each one creating some 2000 data points, and every one of those data points will be automatically put into a full color graph. Absolutely amazing. Trying this sort of thing even five years ago would have murdered the computer that was trying to run it.
:: David (12:07 in Michigan, 18:07 in Paris)

Everyday, to celebrate April Fool's day, my mobile company sends a text message to my phone which contains a joke. Today's message:

Quel est le poisson le plus stupid?Which is the stupidest fish?
La sardine. Elle s'enferme dans sa maison. Ferme la porte à clef et laisse la clef à l'exterieur.The Sardine. It is locked in it's house, because it closes the door and leaves the key on the outside.
You may be thinking, right now, "why in the world did I read this blog today?" Which matches my thought - "Why in the world did I read my phone today?"
:: David (05:53 in Michigan, 11:53 in Paris)

I have started the process of acquiring an episode of "The Daily Show", so now I will be less out of touch with the US media. Ordinarily, I would be concerned that I consider The Daily Show a reliable source of news, but given the story I read today in Wired which talks about people being taken in by stories in The Onion, perhaps trusting the The Daily Show isn't so bad....
:: David (03:14 in Michigan, 09:14 in Paris)

:: Thursday, April 15 2004 ::

Your quote of the day:

"Canada is exporting to us the crack of marijuana and it is a dangerous problem."
This is what White House "drug czar" John Walters has to say about Canadian marijuana. It is clear that he has nothing better to do. Good thing he's managed to stop all those drugs coming in from Columbia and Afghanistan, so that he has time to spend with problems like this.
:: David (13:06 in Michigan, 19:06 in Paris)

There's an article in The Observer (UK) today about immigration, as it relates to a country's economy. Of course, there is always a debate about whether immigrants add to, or subtract from, a nation's coffers. As the article noted:

The Government’s estimate of a €2.5 billion gain to the Exchequer from immigration came under fire last week from right-wing think tank Civitas. It managed to calculate a marginally negative figure, lapped up as proof of mass scrounging by Britain’s immigrants.

But the figure was a result of subtracting the cost of running the immigration service from the taxes paid by immigrants. But is it right to count the cost of controlling immigration - essentially our political choice - against the workers’ tax contribution? Plenty more arbitrary fiscal benefits, such as the fact that almost all immigrants come ready schooled by their own state, could be added to counter the Civitas figures.

But my favorite part was a scene presented by the author, which reminded me of just how amazingly obtuse people can be. It also reminded me a great deal of any number of scenes re-created in the American media of the Jim Crow laws:
At a recent Civitas seminar, even as the participants expressed incredulity at the need for lo?-skill immigration, their coffee was being poured by one of the army of African workers that underpin the London catering industry. Thatcherites complaining about the social side-effects of immigrant workers, while not noticing their refreshments being served by a member of the capital’s new servant class, says it all. People will believe the economic evidence that they want to hear. Even when the opposite is staring them in the face.

:: David (11:22 in Michigan, 17:22 in Paris)

:: Wednesday, April 14 2004 ::

The Wall Street Journal has an article on corporate taxation which touches on a discussion I had with Mike last week while going over my taxes. It states:

Using data from Standard & Poor’s Compustat, John Graham, associate finance professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina, found the average tax rate for public U.S. companies was 12% in 2002, down from 15% in 1999 and 18% in 1995. In other words, in boom and bust, corporations are paying less and less of their profits in U.S. federal taxes.
Now, obviously tax cuts account for some of these changes, but another item the article cited was something Mike had mentioned, in passing, as we were discussing tax law:
The operating losses that many companies reported in 2001 and 2002 account for some of the reduced tax burden. U.S. tax law allows companies to carry back losses to recover prior taxes, and for 2001 and 2002 Congress extended this carry-back period to five years from two. Companies can also carry forward losses to offset taxes in later years.
If, on the other hand, you are an individual with losses in any particular tax year, the rule is 'use it or lose it'. This makes no sense. Why are companies being allowed to juggle their taxes among multiple years, when individuals cannot?
:: David (11:54 in Michigan, 17:54 in Paris)

I read an amusing little paper which talked about the uptake of Social Assistance benefits today. The full paper, which is a discussion paper, is called "The Take-Up of Social Benefits" and is by Janet Currie. It discusses, obviously, the take-up of social benefits, defined as the percentage of people who can get benefits who do get benefits. In the paper, one of the questions she poses is "What Can be Done to Increase Take Up?" In her discussion of this, she discusses the phenomenon of 'instant tax returns':

[...] it may be the case that the high take up of the EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] program and of Medicaid among pregnant women reflects the fact that businesses as well as individuals have a stake in promoting take up of these programs. In the case of the EITC, anecdotal evidence suggests that commercial tax preparers have moved into low income areas in response to the EITC. Many preparers advertise instant cash back, which is essentially the person’s EITC credit less the preparer’s fee. Subsidies for H&R block may not be the most desirable use of government funds, but the example does illustrate the potential role of institutions in enhancing take up.
Which was one of the more amusing interpretations of 'instant cash back' I have I seen in a while. Another example she gives is more disturbing:
In the case of Medicaid, hospitals have a stake in getting pregnant women who are eligible signed up, because they are required to serve women in active labor whether or not the women can pay (as long as the hospital accepts any payments from Medicare). There is evidence that pregnant women were responsible for much of the uncompensated care provided by hospitals prior to the Medicaid expansions (Saywell, 1989). Many hospitals have subsequently established Medicaid enrollment offices on site. These offices assist people in completing applications and tell them how to obtain necessary documentation. Hospitals in at least 32 states and the District of Columbia began to employ private firms to help them enroll eligible patients in the Medicaid program (GAO, 1994).
There are actually two points I found interesting in this paragraph - one is the fact that, by making the hospital pay regardless, it gives the hospital incentive to apprise its patients of benefits which may apply to them. The other point, and one I found really disturbing, is the idea that, if a hospital receives no Medicare money at all, it could turn a woman in active labour away. "Sorry - go away!" I like to imagine there are other laws which prevent this from occurring, but frankly it wouldn't surprise me if there are not.
:: David (11:38 in Michigan, 17:38 in Paris)

Rumour has it the Euro will not continue it's wonderful rise against the dollar - the good economic news coming out of the US is expected to stabilize the Euro/Dollar exchange rate. Apparently, this is news. For those of us who have been watching the rates quite closely over the past few months, the stabilized Euro is already a fact of life. *sigh*
:: David (06:15 in Michigan, 12:15 in Paris)

In today's Guardian: "World set back 10 years by Bush's new world order, says Blair aide". The article is short, but to the point:

George Bush has had a "devastating impact" on global sustainable development and set the world back more than ten years, says Jonathon Porritt, the prime minister’s senior adviser on the subject, today.

Writing in Guardian Society Mr Porritt, who is the chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, says it is hard to exaggerate the damage done to the planet by Mr Bush’s drive for a "new world order".

On a whole series of issues including climate change, international aid, family planning, nuclear proliferation, trade and corporate responsibility, "staying true to a discredited model of extreme economic liberalism has set the world back a decade or more", says Mr Porritt.

He says it is not surprising that the rest of the world has done so badly because Mr Bush has given them the perfect 'but' from their responsibilities.

The piece goes on to describe Mr. Porritt's evaluation of the British government's leadership on environmental issues, which is summed up in the title of the report: "Shows Promise: But Must Try Harder".
:: David (04:57 in Michigan, 10:57 in Paris)

:: Tuesday, April 13 2004 ::

Woo! Wireless internet! I'm blogging from the kitchen!!!
:: David (13:17 in Michigan, 19:17 in Paris)

There's an article in the Wall Street Journal (Europe) about the outsourcing issue. Actually, I could probably write that phrase once and post it everyday, because I suspect with the upcoming elections in the U.S. there will be stories in the WSJ everyday talking about this issue. This particular article focuses on the fact that "[t]he actual number of jobs lost to outsourcing and its impact are a lot less clear than the politicians and media jumping on the issue acknowledge." I do not disagree with this point - the precise level of effect is decidedly unknown. The article goes on to describe some of the sources of data and why they may or may not be correct. Then they do a curious thing - they cite some statistics without discussing them:

Even the highest estimates of job losses to outsourcing are small compared with the gross number of jobs lost in a given year. An average of 15 million jobs were eliminated annually in the U.S. over the past decade, said Ben Bernanke, a Federal Reserve governor, in a recent speech. But those lost jobs typically are offset by the creation Of new jobs in a labor market remarkable for its high level of churn.
What exactly is a 'lost job'? It is never defined. Is someone who quits their job counted? Because that really wouldn't be a very good thing to be counted here.

The article makes one nod to its own biases, noting

Economists aren’t free of the biases that accompany such debates. Most were reared on the theories of David Ricardo, a 19th-century economist who laid out the principles of free trade. Mr. Ricardo believed countries should specialize in areas in which they were rela- tively more advantaged than their international trading partners. He argued that when countries lowered trade barriers, everyone would benefit because they would be able to buy and produce goods less expensively.
which is a fairly accurate summary of one official economic position. It is also the most basic. Any Econ 101 class will move on to describe a slightly more advanced model which compares 'short term' losses to 'long term' gains. However, I think it is fair to say that more economists, and more politicians, follow the basic model rather than the ever so slightly more advanced model. Sadly.

The article also notes one more interesting phenomenon, the replacement of people with programs:

“There is an enormous overlap between the kinds of jobs that are being automated and the kinds of jobs that are going offshore,” says Frank Levy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor. Jobs that can be automated tend to be simple and easily describable in writing, the same criteria that often send jobs overseas.
I think the popular fear of replacement by computer was more of a 1980's Future Shock kind of fear, rather than a current fear. Whether popular fears are the actual fears people should be having is a different question.
:: David (11:42 in Michigan, 17:42 in Paris)

We've just gotten a new schedule for publishing, and it looks as though I may be spending the next few weeks sleeping under my desk, to get everything in place. At least this week is only four days long!
:: David (05:07 in Michigan, 11:07 in Paris)

:: Monday, April 12 2004 ::

I wrote a big ol' long entry from the airport, and rather than cutting and pasting I decided to give it its own web page. Be warned, it's incoherent. Just like me, right now. I did make it home, and it was a really long flight. Now I'm waiting for Sasha. She should be home any minute now. Hurrah!
:: David (10:31 in Michigan, 16:31 in Paris)

:: Sunday, April 11 2004 ::

Misty's flight was cancelled, so she'll be in later than expected - it still looks as though we're going to be able to meet up, which is nice. Head to the airport at 4pm, fly out at 6pm, and then a six hour layover in London. I could damned near go into the city. But I won't. I'll sit, somewhere, and read, and wish I could sleep, or had slept, or whatever. There's no way I'm going to sleep in the airport - some people do, but I'm not them. And back home by early afternoon on Monday. Thank goodness Monday is a holiday where I work! If this trip ad been any shorter I would have actually caught fire at some point.

I managed to make it to animania last night, after driving over with my sister. Saw Katie, had weird food and hung out, and then paper shopping with Lisa (please don't ask). Dinner with Jas and Weeze, which was nice, and thena run up the street to catch the last anime of the night, which was... bizarre. Then off to Bubble Island (a tea joint) and back to Lisa's for sleep. I almost got 8 hours this time! Almost.
:: David (12:17 in Michigan, 18:17 in Paris)

:: Saturday, April 10 2004 ::

Dinner with Tammy this evening, and then a couple of games on the X-Box (I have worked out that sports games with 15 buttons are more difficult than sports games with 2 buttons). I made an early (ish) night of it so I could pack my bags, in preparation for tomorrow's (today's) early morning departure. My sister will be driving me to Ann Arbor, where I sill be seeing a variety of folks before heading to the airport on Sunday. And then, Sunday evening, it's off to London and on to Paris. Again.
:: David (01:55 in Michigan, 07:55 in Paris)

:: Friday, April 9 2004 ::

It's been really interesting being back home. The job situation is, or seems in Western Michigan, a great deal more dire than I expected. I can't imagine Bush winning with an economy like this.
:: David (10:24 in Michigan, 16:24 in Paris)

So, Sasha's birthday was yesterday, and to celebrate, her nephew Tobias decided to come into the world. Of course, she went to Switzerland to help out in the event he was born on time, but I didn't expect him to time it with Sasha's birthday. Nice.
:: David (10:17 in Michigan, 16:17 in Paris)

This whole situation with Japanese citizens being taken hostage in Iraq is very interesting. As the Japan Times notes in its article today:

Any Japanese casualties in connection with the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq would deal a heavy political blow to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
This is because there was not a great deal of support in Japan for sending troops to Iraq. Many, in fact, suggested that sending troops to Iraq was forbidden by the constitution.
:: David (00:33 in Michigan, 06:33 in Paris)

So the news agencies have echoed my comments that nothing interesting was said today, except for something I had merely found amusing, but they found significant. Apparently the name of a report given to the administration in the summer of 2001 was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States". Which, some might say, indicates we had an idea that there might be a strike in the US.
:: David (00:24 in Michigan, 06:24 in Paris)

:: Thursday, April 8 2004 ::

Apparently, the administration declassified documents this morning so they could be commented on by Dr. Rice. As Ms. Gorelick noted 'I thank you for declassifying these documents, although I would have liked to have a bit mroe time with them." They (the administration) aren't very good at this whole spin control with regard to this issue. I wonder if it will be viewed in the media as evasion?
:: David (10:31 in Michigan, 16:31 in Paris)

It was really interesting - early on, Dr. Rice stated that 'Saddam Hussein will not be able to use WMD on his own people again' due to the US action in Iraq. Still, after everything, the WMD phrase comes out. Maybe it's force of habit. Because I wouldn't raise that phrase again were I a member of the administration.
:: David (10:27 in Michigan, 16:27 in Paris)

Yup - "the big problem was systemic" - Jamie Gorelic, democrat. The intelligence agencies are not having a nice day.
:: David (10:25 in Michigan, 16:25 in Paris)

One of the nice things about those damned 'ticker tape' scroll bars across the bottom is that they can explain what all the acronyms stand for. PDB - president's daily briefing (just for example).
:: David (10:23 in Michigan, 16:23 in Paris)

So, overall evaluation of the testimony - I don't know that she is going to say anything which will change the opinion of anyone. It is, however, interesting to hear her describe the methodology of what happens with regard to security. In some respects I don't know what could be found by this commission - I don't know that there's a reason to think that we could stop this sort of thing. She was just describing the arrest of the person who was coming in from Canada with bomb-making material and a map of Los Angeles. As she noted, that was a pretty clear indication that there was a problem. This was all said in light of her belief that 'shaking the trees' was not what stopped that particular attack. In fact, the phrase "shaking the trees" is being used rather often. I can't imagine working on the hill - actually, I can - we use a lot of jargon at the OECD.
:: David (10:21 in Michigan, 16:21 in Paris)

Ack! Defending the Patriot Act! Ack! Why why why!
:: David (10:09 in Michigan, 16:09 in Paris)

Yup - the intelligence agencies are taking it - 'the problem is not yet solved.' But, quite naturally, she is telling us that the office of homeland security is making it better.
:: David (10:08 in Michigan, 16:08 in Paris)

I'm watching Condoleezza Rice testify to the 9/11 commission. She read a prepared statement first, which apparently differed from her private testimony to the commission. Then the questions started. It looks as though they are alternating between Republicans and Democrats. I'm not really sure how these folks were chosen - for example, the man now questioning Dr. Rice was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team. So far, there hasn't been very much by way of memorable testimony. Lots of use of the word 'actionable'. "No actionable information" seems to be the big phrase. It looks as though the intelligence agencies are going to take a beating from her - "structural problems" are being discussed as I type.
:: David (10:04 in Michigan, 16:04 in Paris)

:: Wednesday, April 7 2004 ::

In a prescient article in the economist, the author asks the question is Iraq becoming a quagmire? This is especially relevant if people react as I expect they will to the US attack on a mosque. Bad, bad move. Bad.
:: David (17:49 in Michigan, 23:49 in Paris)

It's funny to me that yesterday I talked about knowing what -to- post, and what -not- to post. Today I had a great lunch with a friend, and we talked about lots of things, and it was nice, and also personal, and thus not for public fare. Beyond that, however, let me say that I miss having the opportunity to talk to people in that deeply personal way, discussing topics that only close friends from way back discuss. It's the one thing about living abroad that I truly regret - I miss having the chance to confide so closely with people. That's one of the things I enjoy about coming home, but sadly don't get to do as often as I would, because when you're doing a high-speed 'see all my friends' type visit, rarely do you get to have truly heart-to-heart discussions. This visit, so far, has been pretty good about that, in part because I tried to avoid seeing too many people. Not, of course, because I don't want to, but because if I actually did see everyone I wanted to, the quality of the visit would be zero.
:: David (17:44 in Michigan, 23:44 in Paris)

How not to write a blog: thoughts on weblogs and relationships from TechTV:

Thoughts are only fleeting when they aren't published.

I save personal relationship challenges for my private journal, the one I keep in my nightstand or purse (and then six months later write a column about it, heh). But some people I know vow to journal everything online regardless of the consequences.

I write a goodly bit of my random thoughts for the day. I blog, actually, quite a lot. But this one is, or should be, a no-brainer. Don't write down all the things you don't want other people to know. Duh.
:: David (00:51 in Michigan, 06:51 in Paris)

I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew in this particular home visit. I feel like I'm already rushing headlong towards my return flight. Ah, well. I'll do what I can, see who I can, and try to survive. Of course, this was supposed to be my vacation....
:: David (00:30 in Michigan, 06:30 in Paris)

:: Tuesday, April 6 2004 ::

Home! Made it! Erik and I had lunch with Martha today, after Erik drove us both to Albion. My dad met us in Albion and drove me the rest of the way. Shock of the day was running into Zach "professor" Constan teaching a physics class outside today - I didn't realize he was still teaching the Physics class, but he is! He was doing a scale model of the solar system outside, and we drove by and I was like "Hey - that's Zach!!!". Hopefully we're going to meet up before the week is out - maybe a mini-TOAD reunion!
:: David (18:59 in Michigan, 00:59 in Paris)

Jet Lag. I hate jet lag. My body knows it's noon, so the fact that the sun hasn't risen doesn't stop it from waking me up and saying "Woooo! Let's Go!"


The flight was uneventful, for the most part. I jotted down a few notes on the more interesting bits of it, which I will post this evening or so. I'm heading to Albion in a little bit, and then home in the afternoon. Lots of stuff to do, and suddenly a week isn't long enough, but I'll manage. It was a good weekend in Paris, so I don't mind the fact that I have a day or two less here. And the time off is always nice.
:: David (07:48 in Michigan, 13:48 in Paris)

:: Sunday, April 4 2004 ::

The suitcase is packed. Layover in London, arriving at DTW tomorrow at 4pm. I hate long days flying long distances. I'm taking the laptop, and hopefully it will show because the website will become amazing (again). When I think about how much I spent when I was in Japan, just working on my website, it's no wonder my Japanese is so pathetic. *sigh* Well, at least I'm not doing that here in France!
:: David (16:57 in Michigan, 22:57 in Paris)

Must... pack... suitcase....
:: David (13:39 in Michigan, 19:39 in Paris)

A little fun today from Le Monde:

Chaque semaine aux Etats-Unis, près de 140 millions de personnes passent à une caisse d'un supermarché Wal-Mart. Environ 30 % des couches, du papier toilette, des shampooings et des dentifrices vendus aux Etats-Unis le sont par Wal-Mart. Il faut y ajouter 20 % de la nourriture pour animaux domestiques, et 15 % à 20 % des CD, cassettes vidéo et autres DVD... Le premier magasin de la chaîne a été ouvert par Sam Walton en 1962 à Bentonville dans l'Arkansas. Selon le classement du magazine Forbes,ses cinq héritiers disposent aujourd'hui chacun d'une fortune évaluée à 20 milliards de dollars. Le chiffre d'affaires de Wal-Mart, 259 milliards de dollars (209,59 milliards d'euros), est supérieur au produit intérieur brut de la Suède.Each week in the United States, nearly 140 million people pass thru the checkout of a Wal-Mart supermarket. Approximately 30 % of the diapers, the toilet paper, the shampoos and the toothpastes sold in the United States are sold by Wal-Mart. Then add 20% of food for domestic animals, and 15% to 20% of CDs, video cassettes and DVDs... The first store of the chain was opened by Sam Walton in 1962 in Bentonville in Arkansas. According to the classification of Forbes magazine, its five heirs each have an evaluated fortune of 20 billion dollars. The sales turnover of Wal-Mart, 259 billion dollars (210 billion euros), is higher than gross domestic product of Sweden.
If that doesn't worry you, very little will....
:: David (13:37 in Michigan, 19:37 in Paris)

We went to church today, for palm Sunday, and then wandered over to the wine show for independent winemakers. Church was a little odd, as there were police doing bag checks outside the cathedral. On the way to the wine show, we passed many of the marathon runners near the arc de triomphe, who were running the big marathon de Paris (the 28th, we are told). We assume the flags are due to an official visit by the UK government, not because 'international' means France and the UK only.

The wine expo was quite fun, although a bit intimidating at first. We got into the swing, though, and had quite a little bit of very good wine. There were lots of wines and lots of people. We ended up with 14 bottles of tasty, tasty wine.
:: David (12:27 in Michigan, 18:27 in Paris)

I can't decide if it's sick and wrong, or merely wrong, that I'm looking forward to my vacation in part because it will give me time to work on my website. Time away from a computer? What's that?
:: David (19:14 in Michigan, 01:14 in Paris)

I know my geography, and my awareness of world events, is better than, let's say, 90% of English speakers. And yet, only today have I even heard of Darfur, and the ethnic cleansing taking place there. You can say it's a small world, but only in some ways....
:: David (19:12 in Michigan, 01:12 in Paris)

:: Saturday, April 3 2004 ::

We had a little shindig last night with some of the people from my French class. They all work with the OECD, but conversation wandered all over, rather than staying on topics of work. It was quite fun, and the last of them left around 3am or so. We had knödel for dinner, which were tasty balls of bread mixed with onions, egg, and spinach. It's a german dish, and very easy to make, and very tasty.
:: David (07:34 in Michigan, 13:34 in Paris)

I shot a few seconds of video out the window of the Eurostar. If you've ever wondered what traveling 150mph looks like from the inside, it looks just like this.
:: David (07:26 in Michigan, 13:26 in Paris)

:: Friday, April 2 2004 ::

Another week. Last one before my visit home. I'm absolutely wrecked, and I don't know that I got anything done at all today. Oh well. More for me to do when I get back. Perhaps I'll be able to focus after a week off.
:: David (11:14 in Michigan, 17:14 in Paris)

I can't decide if it's me, or if it's because it's Friday, or what, but everything coming out of the US media today seems conservative and misguided. I simply don't understand how things could have gone so terribly terribly wrong to produce such insipid analysis.

First off, there's Newsweek's "Bad Science - How political phobias are twisting research & technology". This is a 15 page special report, of which I've only read select sections, but what I've read simply reinforces the idea of science as religion. For example, one article rails against new European regulations which require chemicals produced in mass quantities (more than a tonne a year, I think) to be tested to see if they cause cancer, etc. The article complains that "it is illogical: it requires proving a negative - that a given substance is not dangerous in any way-which is an impossible condition to satisfy. Even exhaustive testing will never quite do the trick." I think giving a mouse some level of chemical, seeing if it dies, and then banning the chemical if it does, is not exactly a bad policy. On the other hand, I think giving everyone in the world that chemical, and then banning it if they die, is a very bad policy indeed.

Of course, I oversimplify things, but the idea that no testing should occur, as opposed to some testing, is crazy. I completely concur that things can be overdone - it is true that you will never prove something completely safe. But there's a huge difference between 'completely safe' and 'not very safe at all'.

In addition to this tidbit, there's yet more talk of how exporting jobs is great for the economy. Now they're even saying it actually creates jobs. Skipping, for the moment, the idea of net job creation, which one would think is a very simple thing to measure (yesterday, 200 people had jobs. Today, 195 do. Net job loss of 5. Simple), noone, absolutely noone, is addressing the question of job quality, or what to do with the people who are displaced. These are key questions - they change the equations dramatically. Who is addressing them?
:: David (05:36 in Michigan, 11:36 in Paris)

:: Thursday, April 1 2004 ::

The 'Poisson D'avril' - why today is called 'April Fish's day' in France:

I've read a few theories on this, in my meander across the web. Most people seem to buy the idea that the idea of playing gags on the 1st of April came into fashion in or around 1582, when Charles IX changed new year's day from April 1st to January 1st. After he did this, there was a period of time when the conservatives and those who lived far from civilization didn't follow the new calendar, and were called fools and sent invitations to fake parties and the like. So why the fish? Either (a) because the sun is leaving the zodiacal sign of Pisces, or (b) because it is the end of lent (which somehow involves substituting fish for other meat, but I've never really followed that very well) or (c)because in the spring the fish are hatching and are thus easily caught.
:: David (13:59 in Michigan, 19:59 in Paris)

Went searching today, on a whim, for a web page which will convert a page in Japanese from it's original Japanese (difficult) to Japanese with furigana (less difficult). Found this page, which has a million zillion different things to help you study Japanese. Very cool.
:: David (06:19 in Michigan, 12:19 in Paris)

So here's a little something for the 'poisson d'avril' (April Fool's day) - a list of the 100 best April Fool's hoaxes. Once again the BBC's putting their archives online comes through, as you will be able to watch the 'bumper spaghetti crop' video.
:: David (04:33 in Michigan, 10:33 in Paris)

Lots and lots of work to finish before I head off this weekend. I'm thinking of staying extra, extra late this evening in order to get work done, and also to bypass the train ride home, since we'll be going out again to see Matthew and Gabrielle once more before they head off to Europe and then back to Australia. The party starts at 9 or so, downtown, which would mean lots of train travel if I went home and came back. On the other hand, a twelve hour day does not put me in a party mood....
:: David (03:19 in Michigan, 09:19 in Paris)

So we went and had dinner at the American cathedral last night. Connie Morella, the American ambassador to the OECD, was the speaker. You may remember I mentioned her a couple of months ago, when the Americans had a fête for all of us. This time I definitely saw more of her than I did then. Very interesting. I think the habits you develop as a politician stay with you, because she most assuredly was a consumate politician, talking about the United States, land of opportunity etc. It was interesting to hear, and see, but mostly as an exercise in studying the social interactions at this level. It was also interesting because I discovered just how many American politicians, or former politicians, are members of the cathedral. Fun stuff, and revealing.
:: David (03:15 in Michigan, 09:15 in Paris)

Hm. Looks like the website is back up. Oh well. $20/year - I can't complain!
:: David (01:29 in Michigan, 07:29 in Paris)

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