Dynamist Blog

"Testing the Waters Under a Shroud"

That mysterious phrase is a WaPost headline. What does it mean? Is it about recent tests on the Shroud of Turin? Is it some kind of post-tsunami story? No, it's about furtive fundraising for the DC mayor's race. No water, no shroud, just a horribly mixed metaphor.

A Great Day

By demonstrating great physical courage, the voters of Iraq quite consciously reclaimed the dignity and self-respect sapped by decades of Saddam's oppression. Today's election was their revolution, the moment when they rose up and took control of their destinies. It was a great day--and it wasn't about us.

Contrary to the impression you might have gotten from assorted blogs--the impression, indeed, that Professor Postrel got from his morning surfing--the mainstream media stories (NYT here, WaPost here), were not merely positive but downright moving. CNN had me tearing up. Today, blogs were a nice supplement, but they were by no means essential.

UPDATE: I like Ann Althouse's post, "The Blue Finger of Democracy": "It was only a few days ago that there was talk that the ink-stained finger would be a dangerous identification, that would mark people for retaliation, that people would need to hide it. Now we see the pictures of people actively displaying what was devised as a utilitarian safeguard, turning it into a proud new symbol of the love of democracy." One blue (or purple) finger puts the voter in danger; a whole city of them creates safety in numbers.

Endangered Gizmos, Monopoly Styles

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is making a list of technologically advanced, otherwise desirable gizmos threatened by folks who don't understand that intellectual property protections are supposed to spur innovation, not suppress it.

On a related note, Peter Harter calls my attention to this Cato Institute brief by Adam Thierer on why it's good that styles can't win monopoly protection. Funny, just yesterday, my hairdresser was telling the story of an old friend who'd invented the Dorothy Hamill do. The guy made plenty of money from it himself, but not nearly as much as he might have dreamed of if he'd assumed royalties. Of course, charging and collecting royalties would have dampened demand considerably. Big-time hairstylists make money by licensing their names to products, opening schools, and, of course, styling hair themselves.

The Other V. Postrel Blog

My sister-in-law Pam found this mysterious blog by one "Vash Postrel." It's only mysterious, of course, because we don't read Russian. Writes Pam, "When I do a translation in Babelfish, turns out the name of the journal is 'Your Rogue' or 'Your Brat.'"

Fortunately, we know the Volokhs, who came from Ukraine a bit more recently than the Postrels, and between them pretty much know everything. Sasha explains (I've removed the Cyrillic):

The guy with the livejournal is called Vash postrel; that's not his name but a reference to a Russian expression, Nash postrel vezde pospel. Virginia, I may have told you about that expression a long, long time ago.

"Postrel" is indeed a slang word meaning "rogue" or "smart-aleck"; the verb "pospet'" (of which "pospel" is the past tense) means "to be done"/"to be ready" but also "to succeed" or "to be on top of things." ("Nash" means "our" and "Vash" means "your"; "vezde" means "everywhere.") So the expression means something like "Our smart-aleck is on top of everything" or "has succeeded in everything."

So the blogger is not a long-lost relative. Postrel means smart-aleck. Pretty funny.

Sasha provides a sample of the blog content:

On January 18th at 4:45 p.m., he says: Too bad they didn't give Javier Bardem the Golden Globe for Best Actor for The Sea Inside. The Oscar isn't looking too likely for him either, even not taking political correctness into account. He should already have gotten a prize for Before Night Falls. [Then a few sentences about the Aviator.] The American dream needs reanimation. Rise up from the ashes, Mr. Hughes. [Then complains how he hasn't seen half the Oscar-nominated movies. He chews out Russian movie renters and pirates a D for timeliness and himself for demanding good copies and not knowing English well.]

The December 24th entry is also about movies: He saw a Fassbinder retrospective, which was exhausting but worth it. Soon, he says, he'll start believing that Santa Claus is an active lesbian.

Another entry tells how he was taking a sleeping car to Moscow and a small child pointed out that his hair was messy.

Long-Distance Voting

The Dallas Morning News reports on Dallas Iraqis who are turning out to vote in their country's historic election. To register and vote, they've had to make two trips from Dallas to Nashville, a 700-mile drive. An excerpt:

Mr. Sindy will leave tonight after work with 48 of his friends from Arlington's Kurdish community. They will pile into seven minivans — each carrying seven people — to drive for 12 hours.

When they reach Nashville early Saturday morning, they will vote at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, the city's only polling place for the election. Then, they'll climb back into their minivans and head home to their families and jobs.

"It is a long drive, but you are with friends," Mr. Sindy said.

This is the second trip the voters will make to Tennessee in the last month. Registration for the vote also took place in Nashville.

The money and time required to travel to Nashville has kept many Dallas-area Iraqis from voting, and registration at polling places across the nation has been lower than expected. Only 3,930 registered in Nashville, down from the 16,000 officials had hoped to see.

Some local Iraqis said they could not get time off from their jobs or miss school. Others said they couldn't leave their families or afford airplane tickets.

Temer Tovi is heartbroken that he cannot participate in the historic day of Iraqi freedom, he said.

"I've got a business, and I have no time to travel for two days," said the owner of Mediterranean Cafe & Bakery in Richardson. "They should bring one to Texas. Anywhere in Texas, we would go."

Just another reason to repeal the Wright Amendment and allow Southwest to fly to Nashville from Love Field.

Style That Undercuts Substance

WaPost fashion critic Robin Givhan says, "There is little doubt that intellectually Cheney approached the Auschwitz ceremony with thoughtfulness and respect," but he got the wardrobe all wrong. He's from Wyoming, where they have to take winter weather seriously, but she's got a point. You don't dress for a solemn state ceremony as though you were going for a hike. The always perfectly attired president would not have made this mistake.

Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood. It is embroidered with his name. It reminded one of the way in which children's clothes are inscribed with their names before they are sent away to camp. And indeed, the vice president looked like an awkward boy amid the well-dressed adults.

Like other attendees, the vice president was wearing a hat. But it was not a fedora or a Stetson or a fur hat or any kind of hat that one might wear to a memorial service as the representative of one's country. Instead, it was a knit ski cap, embroidered with the words "Staff 2001." It was the kind of hat a conventioneer might find in a goodie bag.

It is also worth mentioning that Cheney was wearing hiking boots -- thick, brown, lace-up ones. Did he think he was going to have to hike the 44 miles from Krakow -- where he had made remarks earlier in the day -- to Auschwitz?

His wife, Lynne, was seated next to him. Her coat has a hood, too, and it is essentially a parka. But it is black and did not appear to be functioning as either a name tag or a billboard. One wonders if at some point the vice president turned to his wife, took in her attire and asked himself why they seemed to be dressed for two entirely different events.

Resilience vs. Anticipation

Boston-based strategy consultant Art Hutchinson posts on how attitudes toward risk--and, more important, practices for reducing it--have shifted since 1997, when I wrote my semi-famous Forbes ASAP article contrasting Silicon Valley with Boston.

Competition's Fruits

Before the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement in 1989, one in four Canadian industries--from dressmakers to breweries--were protected by tariffs. What happened when they faced untaxed competition from south of the border? My new NYT column looks at a pathbreaking empirical study, using both industry and plant-level data. The article, by Dan Trefler of University of Toronto, is well-known in Canada, where, as econ papers tend to do, it has been kicking around for years in working paper form. But its lessons are remarkable. Even in an advanced economy with sound macro policy, simply cutting tariffs can lead to huge productivity gains.

Here's the beginning:

Economists argue for free trade. They have two centuries of theory and experience to back them up. And they have recent empirical studies of how the liberalization of trade has increased productivity in less-developed countries like Chile and India. Lowering trade barriers, they maintain, not only cuts costs for consumers but aids economic growth and makes the general public better off.

Even so, free trade is a tough sell. "The truth of the matter is that we have one heck of a time explaining these benefits to the larger public, a public gripped by free trade fatigue," the economist Daniel Trefler wrote in an article last fall in The American Economic Review.

One problem, he argued, is that there is not enough research on how free trade affects industrialized countries like the United States and Canada. Another is that research tends to concentrate on either long-term benefits or on short-term costs, instead of looking at both.

"We talk a lot about the benefits of free trade agreements, but when it comes to academics studying it, we know next to nothing in terms of hard-core facts about what happens when two rich countries liberalize trade," Professor Trefler, of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said in an interview.

His article, "The Long and Short of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement," uses detailed data on both Canadian industries and individual companies to address these gaps. (The paper is on his Web site at http://www.economics.utoronto.ca/trefler/) The study looks at the effect of tariff reductions, the simplest kind of liberalization.

Tariffs are usually not considered that significant in developed countries, where many major industries compete without such protection. But, Professor Trefler said, "they're not significant except where they matter."

Read the rest here. Unfortunately, to illustrate the article, the photo staff chose an industry to which this story doesn't apply. Automobiles were tariff-free before the Free Trade Agreement. In fact, one reason the productivity boost is so remarkable is that some major industries were already tariff-free. (I suggested something with beer, but I guess they didn't have a good photo.)

If you're at all inclined to wade through econometrics--or, for that matter, to just skip to the bottom line--I recommend downloading the Trefler paper. The non-mathematical parts are unusually well written for an academic piece. A personality actually comes through the prose, even making an occasional self-deprecating joke.

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