Dynamist Blog

The DMN's Pro-Pork Flip-Flop

I blogged last week about the Dallas Morning News's remarkable--or, one might say, humiliating--24-hour flip flop on pork for downtown Dallas. First came the high-minded editorial calling for cutting pork, including millions for pretty but unnecessary (and purely local) new bridges over the Trinity River, to fund Katrina rebuilding. Then, a day later, came the reversal. The company's real estate interests obviously trumped its editorialists' principles.

I wasn't the only person to notice. At the Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze ("the Jill Stewart of Dallas") is on the case. Unfortunately, his column's kicker isn't true. I easily found the original editorial on Nexis. He's the better shoe-leather reporter, but I'm good with the electronics.

UPDATE: The Nexis mystery deepens.

Cultural Briefing

Tokyo-based blogger Sean Kinsell eviscerates this WaPost story purporting to find a new girlyness among Japanese men. For a primer on how important local knowledge is to understanding any supposed trend, this post is hard to beat. (Don't get me started on the willful ignorance of suggesting that Vanity Fair readers will understand the contemporary South by reading Christopher Hitchens interviewing communist-turned-agrarian Eugene Genovese. That was a couple of VF issues back: I read it on the newsstand.)

Found Art

burnergroup.jpg For artist Raymon Elozua, odd jobs cleaning out slum-building basements turned into urban archeology--and a collection of artifacts that weren't intended as art but certainly look like it when isolated from their original purpose. To me, these gas stove burners recall the religious totems (at least that's what we think they are) retrieved from ancient sites.

Elozua eventually created an online gallery, with a statement explaining the background (Via Liquid Treat.)

Flash Laptop

In response to my wish for an iBook Nano, reader Ivan Kirigin emails:

Just thought I'd comment on the desire for a "flash" laptop. There are some significant technical problems.

Firstly, the processor, screen, and battery taken together comprise the bulk of the weight of a laptop. It is hard to have a fast processor and a good screen and a big enough battery to power them both for a long time, without having a pretty heavy laptop (when compared to the weight of an iPod nano).

Secondly, you probably don't notice for your gadgets, but flash is VERY slow. For the constant reading & writing needed for any good operating system, this is very bad.

There are going to be some major advancements soon which should change this. Firstly flash is becoming faster and larger (the larger is important because computer makers assume people don't want less than 20GB in a computer). More importantly, there is a huge push to get lower-power processors. Also, new OLED displays draw far less power. Both mean that the battery can be smaller. Finally, fuel-cells are going to be more common in 2006 gadgets. The energy density is so much higher, that you can expect both high capacity and lighter weight.

All in all, I would venture to guess that in early 2007, you'll find an ultra-light almost-desktop-replacement laptop. The weight of an large iPod today, the footprint of a small qwerty, and pencil thin.

As for me, I'm about to buy a 9lb Dell, wishing I could afford to drop another grand on a 15lb Alienware beast.

Ivan, who is obviously less sensitive to laptop weight than I am, also sends links to these stories on Samsung's recent advances in flash memory for laptops.

Black Is Beautiful

Apple's much-praised iPod Nano isn't selling that fast, at least in its white version. The black version is apparently outselling its pale partner by 5-to-1. (Via Good Morning Silicon Valley.)

I'm waiting for the iBook Nano--a superlight laptop that uses flash memory rather than a hard drive.

Why Soundbites Aren't Enough to Change Policy

Six years ago, at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting I blogged about recently, Professor Postrel got into a discussion of privatizing Social Security with José Piñera, the charming creator of Chile's privatized program and an indefatigable campaigner for expanding that model internationally. Steve likes the idea, but he's an MIT-trained economist with a critical mind, and he knows the obvious arguments that opponents are bound to make. So he raised them: What about transition costs? What about Peter Diamond's argument that a pay-as-you-go public program makes economic sense? Alas, there was no answer--then, when it didn't matter, or later, when it did. As a reader emails in response to my comments on think tanks:

Social Security is a great example of the practical problems with this model. The conservative think tanks put reform on the map, but it was through a very unsophisticated argument: "Social Security returns 2 percent, stocks return 7 percent, let's make the switch." This made a lot of politicians favor accounts, but it didn't say anything about transition costs or market risk (which reduce/eliminate the benefits of accounts). If you tried to write about those issues you were the skunk at the garden party. The problem is that not writing about these issues doesn't make them go away. They rear their heads when you build policy, so practical reform plans are seen as a bait and switch versus what was originally offered. ("You said the accounts would solve the problem; now we need to cut benefits, maybe raise taxes??") Politicians on the right, as well as the Republican base, weren't prepared for what was really involved with Social Security reform, in large part because no one told them. And we are where we are.


Cut Amtrak Funding

Joseph Vranich, who helped found Amtrak and now wants to get rid of it, blogs his praise of a new report from the Republican Study Commission, which calls for cuts in the budgets for Amtrak and for completely eliminating the Essential Air Service Program.

The RSC noted that travelers have many other modes of transportation available and significant savings could be achieved by ceasing to operate very expensive long-distance routes that serve a limited ridership. Savings: $2.5 billion over ten years ($1.3 billion over five years)....

Note that the savings from cutting back Amtrak are more significant than the complete elimination of an aviation program.

The post includes a link to the report, and the blog has more on transportation policy. Vranich is the author of End of the Line: The Failure of Amtrak Reform and the Future of America's Passenger Trains.

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